“If you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.” (5:23-24)
Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus telling His disciples: “I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.”
That was really hard for the people to hear. After all, the scribes and the Pharisees were considered the “experts” on the law. No one, many thought, could be better than the scribes and Pharisees. And yet, here is Jesus, telling them that their righteousness needed to surpass the experts.
There was good reason for that, though. The scribes and Pharisees, to whom Jesus was referring, were people who had gotten the law down to a science but, in the process, failed to live the reality of the law in their own lives.
Jesus continues with examples. “You have heard it said…” “What I say…” In doing so, Jesus “fine tunes” the law, telling the people that they had to do more than merely fulfill. They had to surpass. They had to go the extra mile. Not only would a person be held accountable for murder, that person would also be held accountable for any grievance.
As Jesus gave His examples, He made it quite clear that the sacrifice offered was not important. What was important was the person’s state of being as the sacrifice was being offered. If someone brought a gift to the altar but that person was harboring anything against someone else or if that person had aggrieved someone else, that person needed to go and be reconciled. Only then, would the sacrifice be considered acceptable.
How many of us come to the altar with grudges in our hearts. How many of us come to the altar knowing that there are people in our lives whom we have hurt? How many of us come to the altar with malice inside of us? Doing so negates our gift. We must come to the altar as cleansed as possible.
I think you know where I am going here. Confession! We must be reconciled — with one another as well as with God — if our sacrifice is going to have any meaning to God. We need to seek reconciliation with the people whom we have hurt. We also need to seek reconciliation with God whom we have hurt by our sins.
Just as we ask others to forgive us, we need to ask the Lord’s forgiveness as well. That can best be accomplished in the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Go, be reconciled, then come bring your gift to the altar.
FAITH ACTION: Have you hurt someone recently? Go, and ask for that person’s forgiveness. Have you been to confession in a while? Go, and be reconciled with God.
Refrain from eating meat today.