Sometimes, I think, we use this plot line to read and interpret the gospel stories – such as today’s admonition about reconciling with one’s brother before offering worship to God. Today’s reading is a continuation of the first great “sermon” of Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel – the sermon on the Mount. Applying the plot line in this context, the prize is not a fair maiden, but something of infinitely greater value – entry into the Kingdom of God. The difficult deed is not slaying a dragon, but reconciling with those we dislike or who dislike us. (It’s of one piece with loving one’s enemies, which we will read in tomorrow’s Gospel.) We too easily see this reconciling or love of enemies as unconnected to the prize – just something difficult that is required of us, precisely to show that we are worthy or to pass the entrance exam.
But in this case, the cultural plot line is all wrong! To begin with, we are not worthy. God wants us – loves us – anyway. There is no way we can demonstrate our worthiness. God imputes worthiness to us – as a free gift, undeserved, impossible for us of ourselves. There is nothing we can do to change God’s mind about this. Second the deed is not only connected to the prize, it is, in a sense, the very prize itself. Recall: “God is love” (1 John 4:16), or better translated, “God is self-giving”. The Kingdom of God is a realm utterly characterized by self-giving. We can’t possibly be self-giving and at the same time be unreconciled or hate our enemies. That’s why a major component of Jesus’ message – the one he charged His disciples with as He sent them about the countryside of Galilee was “Repent” (e.g., Mk 1:14; Mk 6:12). This meant not so much “Be contrite” as “Change your priorities. You have it all wrong. Your value system is upside down.” This message was to be accompanied by the disciples’ proclaiming that “The Kingdom of God is near”. Truly, when we are self-giving, then indeed the Kingdom of God is present.
A word of caution: When, in our reflecting on these passages, we substitute “Kingdom of Heaven” for “Kingdom of God”, we can too easily pass the prize off as “pie in the sky when we die”. But Jesus told his disciples to ask God to inaugurate his Kingdom on earth (the Lord’s Prayer). It’s now that we have to reconcile. It’s now that we have to give ourselves. It’s now that the Kingdom can come.
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