Most of us grew up hearing, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”That’s pretty good advice. Slanderous words and derogatory put downs damage not just those on the receiving end, but also the one delivering the blows. But Jesus wants us to go beyond the surface statements to the source. His warning is that hearts that harbor hate and anger become a perpetually smoldering garbage fire. He is concerned for our actions and our attitude.
Yet even when we keep our words and hearts in check, Jesus is looking for more. He wants us to be agents of reconciliation. “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift (Matt. 5:23-24).” I must admit that I’m not sure how much I like this instruction. How are we supposed to say, “Well if they have a problem with me, they can come talk to me about it?”
Forgiveness, seeking reconciliation is hard enough when someone else has wronged us. Yet here Jesus paints the picture of us actively seeking reconciliation with someone who feels we have wronged them, whether we agree with that assessment or not. What’s more, the efforts to pursue peace are quite extensive.
Jesus makes it clear that religious rituals are secondary to reconciliation. Abandon your offering at the altar, go on whatever journey you have to take, and try to make peace. How different would the church look, would our relationships look, would our office places look, would our world look if we regularly put religiosity on hold until we gave reconciliation our best shot?