“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:25-26

Beginning in Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus extends the boundaries of the law of Moses. He elucidates individual laws with elements and nuances that catch us off guard. In this *pericope, he couples anger with murder. When Jesus does this, I find myself deeply frustrated! “Do not murder” (Exodus 20:14) was one of the few commands I have thankfully kept! It was my fallback, my way of showing I wasn’t as hopeless as I might appear.

* An extract from a text, especially a passage from the Bible.

Jesus’ tie-in to anger implicates me deeply, even though I am not prone to fits of rage. This is because Jesus chooses to use the Greek word orge for “anger”. It means a lasting grudge or a consistent opposition. It’s the long lasting anger that eventually compels somebody to pick up a weapon and commit the act of murder or to do what we read about yesterday: to slander somebody, to destroy them with words (Matthew 5:22). Both physical murder and the “murder of the tongue” entail first, dehumanizing the other person in our minds. They involve contempt — a way of thinking about another person as subhuman. RT France says “ordinary insults may betray an attitude of contempt which God takes extremely seriously”.

Editor’s Note. See also Genesis 6:11, 13, hamas in the Hebrew OT:  חָמָס châmâç (noun) “violence”; חָמַס châmaç  (verb) “do violence to”.

After revealing to us that we are closer to committing murder than we may first have thought, Jesus begins to offer some imaginary scenarios in verses 23-26. These scenarios teach us what we must do to avoid the path to mental, verbal and physical assassination.

In his first scenario, we read that a man is preparing to make his offering at the altar. This in itself requires some action. There was only one altar in Judaism in the first century. It was in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, Jesus is speaking in Galilee. We envision the man making the 80 mile trek to Jerusalem from Galilee to make his offering at the temple; and yet, God finds this issue of right relationship so important that his justice requires that the man should leave his sacrifice and return all the way home to make amends. A journey of five days, and five days back! Speed is key. Speed in settling disputes stops the wounds from festering. Jesus tells us to be diligent in our relationships to ensure that they don’t head down pathways that lead to anger and possibly to murder.

In scenario two, Jesus imagines that we find ourselves on the way to the judge to settle a dispute. Jesus doesn’t spend time discussing who in the scenario is right or wrong. He simply reminds us that it is possible that we may end up in prison. In the first century, as at many other times, there were debtors’ prisons. If you were found to have failed to repay a debt, you were thrown into jail until you could repay — a circumstance that certainly hindered your ability to repay! Imagine the deep frustration and hopelessness and, guilty or not, the time spent to imagine all the ways you might get even with your enemy.

Both Jesus’ scenarios have the same point. Try to mend relationships. Don’t leave them in tatters. See the other person as a human being and reach out, even if you are not at fault. You may not be ready to do that now, but you can begin to bring your deep emotion to God and ask that he so work in your heart that there might be a beautiful, Jesus-centered reconciliation. When that happens in our lives, we shine brightly to those around us.

  • What relationships have come to mind as you read this?
  • How might you bring those relationships to God in prayer?
  • What brave steps do you believe God is asking you to take?

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