To Make Reconciliation Real

June 28, 2009
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Matthew 5:21-26

The Ones Who Get Mad Get Judged

1. Today an astonishing message was read. "You have heard it said, persons from olden times have been commanded , 'Don't murder. He who has murdered will receive condemnation.' But, I truly say to you. Any one who gets mad with his brother will receive condemnation. He who says to his brother, 'You fool!,' will be handed over to the highest court; he who says, 'you man of folly' will be thrown into the flames of hell," (verses twenty-one and twenty-two).

2. We can understand the part that says "He who has murdered will receive condemnation." If it wasn't there we might be troubled. But what about where it has "Any one who gets mad with his brother will receive condemnation?" In this case, in speaking of "receiving condemnation or judgment" the line of reasoning is that of a trial in a district court. Furthermore, it is stated that "The person who calls his or her brother 'a fool' will be handed over to the highest court." "The highest court" means the supreme court in Jerusalem. This line of reasoning of a person's being tried in the highest court for calling somebody "a fool" doesn't seem to have ever had "its day in court." We can make the case that the words of Jesus are extremely unrealistic.

3. But here with this text we must consider what a trial is for a [first century] Jew. The leader of the supreme court is the high priest. In other words, when speaking of a trial, it is an extremely religious activity. It is not merely a situation between one person and another. It is held in the presence of God, and it is, so to speak, the place where God's judgment is held. Therefore, what Jesus is meaning to say is clear. It doesn't mean one will be judged in an actual courtroom just because you got mad. But, [it means] God will do the judging. The act itself of getting mad will be judged. It doesn't mean when you insult and hold someone in contempt by calling him or her "a fool" that you will actually be handed over to the supreme court. But [it does mean] God will surely judge [you for it].

4. Originally this is from the words from the sixth commandment of "Thou shalt not kill" in the decalogue. So, it seems to be the message that God will judge in the same way as for murdering someone. Therefore, the part that comes next is the words, "He who says, 'fool' will be thrown into the flames of hell." The word "fool" has the meaning "the fool who makes light of God." In a way, it is equivalent to saying, "You are judged by God and a fool deserving to be thrown into the flames of hell." But Jesus is saying, all of you who convict someone else will be judged by God! "You will be thrown into the flames of hell!"

5. It's harsh. It's a really harsh statement from Jesus. And when we hear words of this nature, we will want to find a way somehow to object to them. A hot temper surely is not good. But I don't know about this never getting mad at someone. I would think there is such a thing as justified anger. In the first place, didn't even Jesus get his blood going and get angry? In the temple he was openly angry and drove out the people selling animals and the moneychangers. Also, when we read the Old Testament scriptures, don't we encounter the figure of God getting angry numerous times? That's how I would want to object.

6. But, though I've said all that, something somewhere is still not sitting right. We know what it is. It is that our anger is not the same as Jesus' anger, God's anger. We probably wouldn't need to worry over the words of Jesus if it were the anger of a righteous person truly seeking for righteousness, if our anger was truly that kind of anger. Go ahead and get angry with flying colors in the sight of God! Since God will judge, when it is a truly righteous anger, when it is a truly justified anger, God will surely consider it righteous. But, that's not how we actually are. When we get angry, we think we are right, we feel righteous. Nobody will get angry when they know they are wrong. However, if [we] were to be brought before God, if we should suppose that God were judging, then our anger would not be sustainable in that trial. I think that's what this is about. In that place [in the presence of the Judge] we would have our own sins deserving of judgment, wouldn't [we]?

Be Reconciled!

7. "Therefore, if you are about to present an offering at the altar and there you recall that your brother has animosity towards you, leave that offering at the altar, and first make peace with your brother, and after returning from there, present your offering," (verses twenty-three and twenty-four).

8. By the way, don't you think it's strange the way it continues to the next part afterwards with "therefore?" After it gives the part about "Any one who gets mad with his brother will receive condemnation," by having "therefore" next, you'd think it would continue with "Therefore, give up your anger!" Jesus doesn't say that. [He doesn't say] "Give up your anger!," but rather [says], "Make peace [with your brother]!" It means "Be reconciled to [your brother]!" Jesus understands. [He understands] that it is rare that just only one party is angry. Usually both parties are angry. Even if the one party is a very bad situation, if the other side is mad, then anger will soon arise in the first party as well. "If you didn't use such cruel language ... Even though I've got my reasons too ..." etc. etc. Thus, anger arises on both sides, and the relationships break. And then relationships which are left broken and neglected will stay that way for ever. Isn't that right?

9. Jesus is describing this type of figure. For, he says, "If ... there you recall that your brother has animosity towards you." "I'm upset 'cause that guy's got something against me! Me and him don't have anything in common any more!" Then, that means [we'll] leave them alone for good. Then, we live after that forgetting the broken relationship. But then one day it slips back into our memory. And where [are we]? It is the moment we "are about to present an offering on the altar." It is when we are worshipping God.

10. In today's first reading, I read to you Deuteronomy chapter twenty-six. It is the part about the time one presents an offering on the altar. They are offering the first produce of the earth for the season. They recall the Lord's salvation at that time and place. They recall that what they are obtaining now comes only from the grace of God. And they give praise to God. When they worship by recalling the grace of God in this way, then God causes them to remember. While they are sharing in God's great grace in this way, [God causes them to remember] the relationships in which they are at enmity and unforgiving of one another, and that they are still that way, holding onto hostile feelings towards each other.

11. "Brother" is repeatedly said on purpose. It is not a story of blood relatives. They are brothers who have the same faith. They are brothers who share in the same grace. They are brothers who share in the same salvation. Nevertheless, it happens that they hold onto hostile feelings towards each other. It happens that this condition of theirs ends up becoming normal to them, and it stops coming into their awareness that that is a problem. But, in front of the altar they are caused to remember, that they are not the true way they should be.

12. If you were caused to remember, what would it be? Reconciliation does not naturally happen. The only thing that happens naturally is forgetting. Some kind of action is required for reconciliation. Unless one acts the situation won't change. We understand that and we usually feel the other person should make the first move, that "they [should] apologize," or "they [should] admit their wrong." But, Jesus says,"First go and make peace with your brother." That's right. Jesus says, "You will do the going."

13. And then he says more. "In the event that you are going on a road with someone who is suing you, be reconciled to him quickly along the way! Otherwise, he will deliver you to the judge, and the judge will deliver you to the officer, and you will surely be thrown into jail. I truly say to you. You cannot ever leave from there until you pay the last quadrans [penny]," (verses twenty-five and twenty-six).

14. It is not entirely clear what "until you pay the last quadrans [penny]" means. We are under the impression that this is more a story about God's ultimate judgment than that of a secular court. It is a serious story because of that [reference to paying to the very last penny], but in this text, the first half, before being delivered to the judge, seems more significant to the overall message. Since this is the continuation of the part about reconciliation, what Jesus was getting at is that [we are to] "be reconciled quickly!" Furthermore, he makes the challenge to do it "along the way, while on the journey." [The man] is going on a road with someone who is suing him. That's this part about "along the way, while on the journey." The road doesn't go on forever. His going on the road with him is for a certain limited time period. Obviously he is referring to the truth that the opportunity for reconciliation won't continue for ever. Therefore he seems to be saying, "Be reconciled quickly! Do it while you can make reconciliation!"

As A Message From The Crucified One

15. So, having begun with the part about the sixth commandment from the decalogue of "Thou shalt not kill," we proceeded to that on anger, and then arrived at the part about "Be reconciled!" At this point I would like for us to remember two things in particular. First, God does not will that we remain on the level of the commandment of "Thou shalt not kill." "The person who kills will be brought to judgment. Therefore, we don't kill." God does not will that we remain in that [category of meaning]. Speaking more broadly, the Lord does not will that we remain in the place where we say, "I keep the commandments. I don't do evil. So, I'm fine, then." [I would like for you to remember] in particular that the Lord does not will that "the brethren," those with whom we are kindred in the faith, the community of faith, the church [ever] become like that. But rather, the Lord wills that [our] broken relationships be actively healed, that reconciliation and the restoration of relationships both take place among [us], and that love and trust be restored, and that we begin to conduct ourselves in this way. It's not "Thou shalt not kill," but "Be reconciled!"

16. And second, [I want us to remember] that it is none other than Jesus who had given these words. The Lord stated that our anger [falls] under the judgment of God. In other words, the Lord stated this righteousness of ours which we are claiming, which appears in the form of anger, does not pass as such at all in the presence of God. The Lord stated that our righteousness cannot truly be sustained at the judgment of a righteous God. But the [same] one who made those statements is also the one who is able to save us from the judgment of a righteous God.

17. On the cross Jesus made atonement for our sins, for us existing as we do even in our anger and with these claims of righteousness of ours. While we, who are completely unrighteous, [are busy] making claims with each other over our own righteousness, the Lord bears upon his own back our sins and he takes over for us the judgment of God [upon himself], saying, to the effect, "I am the one who is guilty." His having borne our sins in our stead means exactly that. This Jesus is saying to us gathered at the cross, to us gathered in order to recall the grace of the Lord in front of his holy altar and to give praise for the Lord's grace: "Lower your fists of righteousness that you have been waving in anger and be reconciled! Reconciliation doesn't happen by some other person. It starts with you. You go!" The Lord is speaking to us with these words.