Relationships, forgiveness, reconciliation

13 Feb
Guest Post – Rev. Andrew Tasker
Matthew
5.21-37
As we have just heard, the Gospel is long, quite harsh and includes
some of the hardest lessons from Jesus about really complex issues – adultery,
divorce, swearing falsely and finally, conflict with another – I can’t think of
a more challenging passage!!
So I have decided to be cowardly and pick what I consider to be the
easiest topic of a really hard bunch – believe it or not, it’s conflict – that
is, difficulty with our neighbour, friend or family member, about relationship
and reconciliation. 
To me, reconciliation is at the heart of the Gospel, it doesn’t
come easily to most of us and it constantly challenges us to be better
people. 
So, firstly
then – I think it is to acknowledge that striving for healthy connection with
one another is absolutely central to our existence.  
Jesus wants
us to use the perfect, non-judgmental and loving friendship he offers us, to
mirror our own relationships.  We become
as one with God when our relationships flourish.  I am convinced that we are called to create
nothing more and nothing less than loving relationships.  Perhaps nothing else matters.
But – we
can’t do it on our own.
Much as all the
Gospels call us to individual relationship with Jesus, Jesus knows that we
cannot live life without the other. 
You.  You are the other, for
others.  St Paul in his letters is at
pains to explain to communities of which he has charge, that ‘getting on’ in
the name of Christ is pivotal.
We can’t
ignore that we are born into community, not into some vacuum in which we are
alone and can be wholly selfish.
So with these things in mind, interestingly, Jesus doesn’t immediately
start by addressing the actual topic of relationship, of reconciliation, but
rather he starts with a strange command – that we must leave our gifts at the
altar before reconciling with our neighbour. 
For it seems that gifts at the altar are of little value to God unless
they come with our clean conscience and our resolve to seek reconciliation with
our neighbour.  
By leaving gifts at the altar, we are acknowledging that God
knows us inside and out.  He knows our
secrets and the dark brooding ways of our all too human nature.  For when we leave gifts at the altar, or at
the altar of our minds, we leave a part of ourselves there – and right then,
God can work on us and heal us.  And give
us courage for the process of forgiving – and indeed of being forgiven.
And when we try to take Jesus at his word and actually leave
gifts at the altar, this altar need not, of course, be a church altar – the
kitchen table, a side table at home will do – why not actually leave something
there – as a reminder that you need to…call your cousin whom you dislike, to
send that email or text to a friend that you lost contact with because they
said something you didn’t like.
The psychological impact of conflict cannot be
underestimated.  It makes us ill with
worry.  Jesus knows this and accordingly
he craves that people are free from conflict – as soon as possible.  Surely he wants us whole and healthy.
Jesus always teaches us with a view to challenge, of course –
the Gospel is not easy and today’s Gospel is particularly hard to stomach.  Indeed, this issue of resolving our
differences with others is just plain hard work – it frightens me to face those
with whom I am have issue, that I don’t fully trust, that I would rather not
engage with.  For it is all too easy to
love my friend and dine with them, offer them compliments and help them solve
their problems and comfort them.  Jesus
doesn’t preach on the things that we do easily – the love we lavish on those
with whom we are friends.  No, we are
called to be radical in our relationships and seek out the complex and divided
relationships of our lives. 
We are challenged to make that hard phone call, or to accept
that we were wrong too and even if we are sure that we were not wrong, to
compromise and sometimes even take the blame. 
In this way, the cross looms large – maybe some days bearing
another’s anger, for example, might best be borne by absorbing that anger
ourselves.  In this way we willingly
suffer the pain of those we have difficulty with.
And reconciliation might need to happen quickly.  That gift you left with God is waiting to be
picked up and time is short.  The Gospel
is clear on this too – we never know when the hour will come and that broken
relationship calls us to both rectify it quickly – and to love the other at almost
any cost.
Further, in our day of psychological intervention, the issue can
go even deeper.  This whole matter of
reconciliation is also about our relationship with ourselves – the disquiet we
have in our hearts for ourselves at the things of which we are not proud – what
of our lack of forgiveness of ourselves, when all the while we are often
happy to forgive others?  That gift we
left at the altar might just be ourselves and in the meantime whilst we mend
our relationships with another person, God is busy mending our broken hearts.
No one is an
island.  We live in a variety of
communities and they focus our need to be compromising and forgiving…to me,
nothing is more important.  If nothing
else, it is just unhealthy for us to be in conflict.
But ironically
I would add this – don’t think that you are called to forgive at any cost –
only God can keep forgiving and forgiving – we have human limits – despite the
fact that Jesus’ command to reconcile seems absolute. 
To think that
we have to be as God in our relationships is not useful and may even be destructive.  You might find that despite your best efforts
you simply cannot resolve a situation – and that’s alright too.  Yet ensure that when you come to pick up your
gift from the altar – wherever that altar is – that you focus on God and say
‘God, I have done my best – I have tried everything to reconcile with my
neighbour and it has not worked out’. 
Then don’t
forget to do one more thing – take up that gift you left at the altar and with
a clean conscience, offer it to God in humility. 
Walk a mile
in someone else’s shoes before you judge them – enquire as to their pain and
suffering. 
And be at
peace.  Peace is an ultimate goal of
reconciliation.  Be at peace. 
Reconcile at
any cost, until you simply cannot reconcile any further.
After all, we
live only to try and do as Jesus does.  To
get it right with others.   

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