Saint Paul summarizes the entire content of the Gospel in Second Corinthians chapter five: in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. You have a different look at life once you take Paul’s words to heart. Everyone you know, everyone you meet, becomes someone for whom Christ Jesus died.
Why, then, have you not taken this truth to heart? Why do you remain angry with people? You may not be really angry with most people you know, but there are those who remain in your personal penalty box for some major or minor infraction. How does your keeping track of your neighbor’s sins against you stack up against your sins against not only them, but others whom you may not know, even against God Almighty? Today Jesus gives us encouragement to be reconciled to your brother.
When Jesus speaks about reconciliation, He is speaking about keeping the Fifth Commandment: You shall not murder. The Pharisees and experts in the law taught that not murdering someone meant you don’t take up a weapon and cause physical damage. What they forgot about the Fifth Commandment is that it includes more than a weapon. The Fifth Commandment covers every action that hurts or harms your neighbor.
Perhaps the most dangerous weapon in your arsenal is the least-likeliest to cause damage. The tongue causes more damage to your neighbor’s reputation than any other weapon. Your tongue causes irreconcilable differences between people. Irreconcilable differences are nothing other than continued hate. Jesus says in today’s Gospel that everyone who is angry with his brother without a cause will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Raca,” will have to answer to the Sanhedrin. But whoever says, “You fool!” will be in danger of hell fire.
The danger of hell fire alone ought to move you to reconcile with your brother. This is why the Law is still preached to Christians along with the Gospel. Some Christians think that, because Christ has shed blood for our sins, we no longer need to hear the Law. Christ has fulfilled the commandments in His loving act of reconciliation on our behalf. This is true. It stands at the center of everything we believe, teach, and confess as Christians. Yet sin remains in our mortal bodies. As long as we are this side of the grave, we are at the same time both justified and yet sinners.
Even the most subtle sin of destroying your neighbor’s reputation with your tongue, or with your fingers on a computer keyboard, needs warning and admonition. Your hurt or harm against your neighbor is murder. You not wanting to be reconciled with your brother when something comes between the two of you is murder. Don’t go on the Internet and tell everyone how much you hate someone, either in vague words or in direct speech. Don’t run his or her reputation through the mud, and then think about reconciling once you’ve done your damage. Be reconciled to your brother. Go. Now. Don’t wait. Reach an agreement with him quickly.
Our Lord’s harsh words concerning reconciliation preserve us from the Pharisaical self-righteousness. Oh, well, at least I didn’t hit her with a blackjack. He wasn’t shot on sight, like he should be. True, yes, but your words about murder did the job just fine. Your “at least” isn’t good enough for God, Who expects absolute, total, complete, and perfect righteousness in fulfilling the Law. No gift, however perfect, can placate our heavenly Father. Only obedience is expected; obedience you cannot give.
The Law brings knowledge of sin. The Law brings terror. Even when your heart is set on walking in the Lord’s precepts, there’s always that gnawing knowledge in the back of your head that your walk won’t walk the walk. You are guilty of the Fifth Commandment. You have murdered your neighbor in your thoughts, words, and even deeds. You may have not shot him, but you have hurt or harmed him. You deserve everlasting death. Remember, death isn’t merely assuming room temperature. Death is total absence from God and His gifts. Death is rejection of what He gives you in Christ. Death is final and eternal.
Once the Law of God works repentance, you are prepared to receive the comfort of the Good News that Jesus Christ has taken the punishment you deserved for murder. Even though Jesus never hurt or harmed His neighbor in their body, He suffered the punishment of a murderer. He was sent to the cross, while a murderer named Barabbas was set free. What horrible injustice! We deserve what should come to us for what we do. Jesus deserves none of it, yet takes on all of it for your sake. “All our debt/Thou hast paid/Peace with God once more is made./O Lord, have mercy.”
Be reconciled to your brother. Christ has died for their sin, too. Reckon even your worst enemy as one for whom Christ died. That’s hard to do when animosity builds against your adversary. Consider that Jesus willingly suffered for you in order to reconcile you to the Father. Even when you willingly do something good for your neighbor, you tend to count the cost. You seek limits on your kindness. Jesus’ love for sinners like you and me knows no limit. His death for your sins doesn’t stop being salvific after the 17,000th sin. You are His brother. He is reconciled to you in blood and in perfect, holy righteousness. These are yours in Christ. These are yours to give to your brother when you are reconciled with him.
Speaking from experience, there is no better feeling than when you speak a word of reconciliation to your brother with whom you have a disagreement. It is as if cool, clear, fresh water springs from your mouth into their heart. You feel the same thing when your reconciling words hit home with your brother.
Reconciliation, though, is more than good feelings. It is the way of the Christian life. Christians do not hold grudges against anyone. Christians do not count the cost of how many times we say “I’m sorry” or “You’re forgiven”. Christians forgive. Christians give forgiveness in a seemingly reckless way to all whom they have hurt or harmed. It once was said about Christians, “See how they love one another!” That love has its roots in the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We love because He first loved us. As He loved us, so we love our brother and live in peace with one another.
King David sings in Psalm 133: Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down on the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the Lord has commanded the blessing, life forevermore. Fellow oily bearded ones, rejoice! In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself. Believe it for His sake.