At first, how Jesus extends the ancient law today seems straight-forward – be at peace with your brother before you come before God to worship. He tells us to not only avoid direct sinful acts, but to also reconcile our grievances with others as a cleansing process in preparation for coming to union at the altar.
But the more I reflect on this, the harder it seems. In the sacrament of reconciliation we receive forgiveness from God. Our past wrongs are fully forgiven, the slate is wiped clean, and we are truly reconciled with God. Are we humans capable of such magnanimity, such total restoration of broken relationships, such love of the other that transcends our own hurts? How many of us recall (some with more relish than others!) past wrongs that we have felt at the hands of our brothers and sisters? How many of us say we forgive someone, only to harbor, deep in our minds and hearts, the memory, the grudge, that becomes a thing separate from the original wrong? Can we come to the altar with our gift?
The psalmist reminds us that when we hear God’s voice we should not harden our hearts. But if we don’t fully reconcile with someone when we feel we have been wronged, are we not hardening our hearts toward them? And what of the times we have wronged others? Should we expect more of someone else than we do of ourselves? Do we “forgive” those who trespass against us?
Can we do this on our own? How many personal, and cultural, and national grudges exist for scores and hundreds and thousands of years? I think it takes divine intervention to provide the seed that grows into true forgiveness of the wrongs we feel (and perpetrate). Jesus is that seed. His example, His sacrifice, His challenge to us to reconcile, to move in the right direction, to accept our humanity and shortcomings and to keep the faith of trying, offers the hope that some of us can someday truly be reconciled with those we have hurt and those who have harmed us. And so my prayer for today is to put aside the hurts I have felt and to try to forgive those who have hurt me, and to put myself in the shoes of those I have hurt and to generously help them forgive me.
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