Chapter 5 of Matthew’s gospel is so full of teaching that it provides a lifetime of material for reflection. The Beatitudes alone are enough! In today’s lectionary selection, however, there is a very important section on how we ought to treat those persons closest to us. (Jesus calls them our brothers, but we know he meant our sisters too.) It’s about the fact that we must be in right relationship with our neighbors before we approach God in our worship services. The very familiar text (vs. 20-26) tells us that if there is something separating us from another person we need to leave our gift at the altar to go and be reconciled. It’s that important. The interesting thing about this passage for me, however, is a simple twist in the way the recognition of our duty is expressed by Jesus. He doesn’t say, “If you recall that you have anything against your brother, go first and reconcile…” Instead, Jesus makes the job of reconciliation ours even though it is “if your brother has anything against you…”
It would seem unfair to say it is our responsibility to take the first step in such a case. It’s much easier to blame others for their misunderstanding of us or their unwillingness to come to us when we have nothing (maybe) against them. I think that Jesus is looking for two things from us here: 1. a willingness to look in a mirror to be sure that there is no obfuscation going on from our part and 2. a willingness to practice unconditional love in any situation – whether or not we share responsibility for the breach in relationship. Letting go of justice for mercy is a large-hearted step. Taking it goes a long way in moving toward the heart of God.