You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. …
Therefore, 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.
About fifteen years ago I sat in on a presentation introducing a Master's degree in conflict resolution. By way of illustrating the need for focused training in the field, the presenter handed out a list of behaviors and asked the audience to assign each behavior a number between one and ten with number one equaling a clearly ethical behavior and number ten being clearly unethical. Murder was on this list, and the audience gave it a ten; the outcome was clearly unacceptable to us all.
But other behaviors such as “white lies,” sarcasm or not returning the extra few cents a cashier accidentally handed you were rated differently within the audience. For some, a white lie was considered a more ethical choice in many circumstances, and it was given a two or three rating, while for others, a white lie was dishonest no matter what the circumstances, and was rated a six or seven. The speaker noted that it was in these gray areas where the seeds of conflict often start to develop.
I see Jesus at work in these deeper, ambiguous levels of our complex and differing psychologies and personal philosophies. Our beliefs and opinions about what is wrong and what is right—our particular understanding of Truth—shape how we relate to the world around us.
But I have also found that my beliefs, at times, have functioned as a defensive wall against pain and confusion, keeping the chaos of loving and living in the world at a distance—but also keeping God at a distance.
Christ, as the embodiment of God's all encompassing love towards us, calls us to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that means entering right into the chaos of love and life. Here in the Sermon on the Mount he gives us tangible, practical methods for breaking down the walls we have in our hearts which separate us not only from each other, but from fully experiencing that divine all encompassing love.
I have found Jesus’ directive here to go and make things right with those I've wronged—even in the slightest!—the fastest way back to my truest and strongest self. The walls of defensiveness and pride dissolve, and I become again the person God made me to be. Approaching God with this more honest self, I am able to sense the grandeur and expanse of His Love and feel that I am a part of it. When I am shut down even in the slightest way, I struggle to feel God’s glory, and I yearn for it. I fret over the lack of it, blaming others and my environment instead of facing myself. I find I am constantly sabotaged by my intense, opinionated and impulsive self, which regularly gets the better of me.
It has taken me some pretty hard years to realize that not only is it self-destructive to feel guilty for failing to maintain my truest and strongest self, but it is impossible. But that is the lesson, isn't it? My faith is strengthened every time I fall and still choose to make peace with humanity and reach out to Christ with both hands again and again. This is where I find grace . . . and myself.