Reading this Article Will Make You Deeply Uncomfortable

Stephen Um | June 4th 2018

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “reconciliation”?

Most of us think of reconciliation as something for tragic cases. Perhaps it’s big political things like the work of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in post apartheid South Africa; Trade Union disputes or legal battles; saving marriages and bringing together warring family members.

The idea of reconciliation can feel distant, far off, and big. It’s for tragic cases. And we’re not tragic cases.



When Jesus talked about reconciliation, he talks about something much closer to home for all of us.

Why You Need Reconciliation

The Sermon on the Mount is thought by many to be the shining example of Jesus’ teaching genius. On the surface, it looks like a manageable set of guidelines for peaceable living.

Take this statement for example:

You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.” (Matthew 5:21)

Don’t kill anyone—simple.

But Jesus would beg to differ. Consider the audacity of his next statement:

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

Jesus equates anger with murder—he interprets the law in such a way that the moral stakes are raised way above our comfort level. Jesus is not primarily explaining how we ought to live for God. He is exposing our inability to live for God.

Does this seem extreme? Jesus isn’t finished yet:

Whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council and whoever says, “You fool!” will be liable to the hell of fire. (Matthew 5:22)

So if you so much as call someone an idiot, you will be liable to a tribunal process of judgment. The pointed email to a co-worker, the angry exclamation at the wheel of our car, the sharp word to our children—Jesus takes these daily low-level unreconciled relationships and elevates them to the very highest level.

We can’t shrug our shoulders and walk on from these incidences, because the Lord takes them very seriously indeed. I need to unlearn my own innocence. When I submit myself to Jesus’ severe diagnosis and recognize that I need reconciliation too, then I can begin to take strides toward restoration and wholeness.

Why You Are Responsible for Reconciliation

Everyone needs reconciliation—and everyone is responsible for pursuing it. This is part of the point that Jesus gets across with his vivid illustration that immediately follows:

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23-24)

Consider the dynamics at play here. Assuming this man is from Galilee, where Jesus is giving this teaching, he has traveled over 80 miles on foot to get to the temple in Jerusalem. There, he plans to offer up a sacrifice to God.

However, as he is standing in front of the altar, something comes to mind. Maybe he had been dragging his former friend’s name through the mud with the secret hope of damaging his reputation; maybe he had had a bitter fight with his wife before he left Galilee; maybe he hadn’t spoken to his mother in two years because he was intent on holding a past insult against her. Plug in the specifics of your strained and broken relationships here.

As he is standing in front of the altar, he has a pang of conscience in the presence of God. And Jesus is clear on what he ought to do: leave his gift at the altar, take the long trek back to Galilee, go to the person that he wronged—the person he had been avoiding, slandering, ignoring—and own his part in the wreckage of the relationship. ”I don’t know if you sense it, but I’ve been experiencing some significant strain in our relationship as of late. I want to own my mess and say that I’m sorry. What would it look like to begin to patch things up between us?”

If we all obeyed this command on Sunday mornings our churches would empty out. God is essentially saying, The sacrifice can wait. But this absolutely cannot wait. You can’t neatly compartmentalize your vertical relationship with me from your horizontal relationships with others.

Are you uncomfortable yet? Reconciliation is painful! It is a renunciation of faith in my own innocence. It is an active owning of my mess. And it is a refusal to forget the wrong that I have done to others.

Reconciliation is for tragic cases, but Jesus shows us that we are the tragic cases.

There is Hope for the Unreconciled

But maybe you have questions. How are all of these bruises to be healed? Will it be worth the risk? What if we are rejected?

There is gospel hope for stiff-armed, self-protective, unreconciled mess makers. Christ, who lived in glorious paradise, put himself smack dab in the middle of our chaos—he came for tragic cases. He took all of our hatred, anger, envy, strife, resentment, bitterness, jealousy—all the things that fracture and break our relationships—and he took it into the grave with him to absorb the destructive blow of God’s judgment on sin. And three days later when he climbed out of that tomb, rising from death, he left it in the grave.

Reconciliation, then, is not first and foremost something you do—it is something you receive. The practice of reconciliation, then, is simply the act of re-gifting what you have received to someone else.

So leave your gift—go and reconcile.

This is adapted from Gospel Shaped Mercy, a curriculum from The Gospel Coalition exploring what it means to be a community engaging with the world with compassion and justice. Find out more and order your DVD Leader’s Kit here.

Stephen Um

Stephen Um (PhD, University of St. Andrews) is the Senior Minister of Citylife Church in Boston, Massachusetts. He also teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and serves as Associate Training Director with Redeemer City to City. For the past 18 years, Stephen and his wife, Kathleen, have been involved in several Presbyterian churches throughout the Northeastern part of the country. He is the author of Why Cities Matter (Crossway). Stephen also serves as a Council member with The Gospel Coalition.

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