“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." Matthew 5:23-24 NIV
“Reconciliation always brings springtime to the soul.” — Brother Roger
If reconciliation always brings springtime to the soul, then conflict must feel like a brutal polar vortex. Because of this, most people avoid conflict at any cost, and they nurse resentment, anger, and misunderstanding instead.
One of the highest challenges in human relationships is communication, and this may be because people are always communicating to avoid conflict. We understand why. We don’t want to get into the messiness of conflict, but avoiding that messiness leads us to avoid relationships themselves.
Emotions aren’t always able to be controlled and human language is fragile and fails to convey our hearts. However, Jesus was not afraid of conflict. In fact, Jesus encouraged it. For Him, conflict was not a negative experience. He saw it as a way of protecting one’s relationship with God.
The text shows us that you can let conflict find a lodging place in your heart and mind until it infects your worship. Jesus presses this issue so seriously that He equates it to the urgency people have about not committing murder. The Lord is extremely serious about how we deal with our anger.
We are to steward our human conflicts and take them seriously, because our anger parallels the intensity of murder. Jesus underlines this by saying, “I want you to leave your gift at the altar and go and be reconciled.” It was important to the offering to give with a reconciled heart.
Jesus wants us to make it a priority to live in reconciliation with the people in our lives. We need to apply attention and effort to handling conflict. We need to grip conflict and use it to protect our relationships with the people around us and God.
When we spend every day fighting and trying to live a life that is in line with God’s will, people will cause conflict in our lives, and we will cause conflict in theirs. It is just a part of being in relationship with people. So, we need to learn how to manage conflict, not avoid it. This is because it affects our worship and offering to Jesus.
God receives our offerings when we are in conflict with Him. He hears the prayers of the sinner. This is because He is the one who brings healing in our relationship with Him. However, when we have conflict with others, God makes it clear that we are the ones who need to bring healing in those relationships.
God doesn’t atone for our transgressions against each other. We have to do that and fight to build healthy relationships. When we stop seeing conflict like bondage and treat it like a measuring rod, we can then go from where we are to a place of maturation. We can use these moments to grow and to bring the Christ in us into those moments and into our lives.
"Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus replied: "'Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.' This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments."
Jesus didn’t want to send a signal that it is perfectly fine to have ritual faithfulness or institutional regularity and not have healthy, human relationships. Part of having a faith commitment to Christ is a commitment to honor Him in our human exchanges.
This week’s text comes right after a Sadducees’ attempt to trap and discredit Jesus. In this hostile environment, Jesus responds to the Sadducee and explains how to turn our hearts and thoughts towards healthy relationships: “Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself” (Matthew 22: 37-40MSG).
If we don’t first build a strong relationship with God, we will never understand how to have healthy relationships with others. When we have a strong relationship with God, we don’t need to be needy in our other relationships. We are already filled and satisfied. By rooting our relationships with God, dangerous emotions like jealousy fade away, because we know that God, in His providence, connected us for mutual benefit, not competition. Our strengths and weaknesses can then cover each other and build each other up.
But we can’t expect all of our relationships to be for our benefit. Jesus said when He returns, the righteous will ask Him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ and He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:44-45 NIV).
It is important for us to be able to help those who cannot help themselves. Because all of our relationships are built on our relationship with God, we can bring God’s healing to those from whom we will never receive any material benefit. If we approach relationships with a utilitarian mindset, we have completely misunderstood our relationship with God.
God hasn’t knitted us together so that one person must give up everything for the other, but so that we can benefit from each other—not simply materially but spiritually.
If we want to live our best, God-honoring lives, we need to look at our relationships. We need to ask ourselves how healthy they are, but even more, we need to ask ourselves, how healthy is our relationship with God?
But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
Luke 10:33 NIV
The third person to come along this road is a Samaritan, the least likely hero. He takes the man who is nearly dead on the side of the road, bandages the man’s wounds, takes him to the closest inn, and sets him up for long-term care.
It is hard for us, today, to understand the hatred that existed between Jews and Samaritans. Samaritans were considered pagans to the Jews. Jews would pray aloud in the synagogue that the Samaritans were not accepted as Jews and had no participation in their inheritance.
Christ’s message here is radical. He could have made the hero the priest or the Levite, but he makes the hero the least likely and most hated. Jesus makes it clear here what he thought about the work going on in the temple and the people who were producing it.
When the Samaritan sees this man laying on the road, despite his despised status, he helps the man. The Samaritan stopped because he had compassion. He could associate and sympathize with the man’s suffering, so his compassion turned into sacrificial action.
This is a defining moment for the Samaritan. He had a right to walk away from this Israelite who despised him, but he did not let the way others treated him seep into his own actions. Instead, he recognized that reaching out and helping others is the true life that God has for us.
Life is full of these defining moments, and every one of us is living in the midst of these defining moments. We have to choose between how we want to act and how God is pushing us to act. God doesn’t want us to return hate for hate, but instead hate with love. This Samaritan, despite being hated by the Jews, turned to help one, overturning that hate in an instant.
When we are faced with what we want to do versus what God wants us to do, we are always better off doing what God tells us to do. Then, we can see through the lens of compassion and seize these defining moments not only for ourselves, but for the world around us.
So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
Luke 10:32 NIV
Different from the priest in part one, this second man is a Levite. He is a caretaker of the temple, and an assistant to the priest. So, like the priest, this Levite is coming from church. Thus, the Levite has the same response. His want to remain ceremonially clean is so important that he avoids the man on the side of the road.
This Levite teaches us that defining moments are gifts from God if we can fight the enemy of human avoidance and anxiety. God will often package His purpose for our lives in encounters that will test our resistance.
There are times that He will only gift revelation to us for a moment. There is a reason that these defining moments are in this season, at this time, in this place. God will let us catch up to some blessings whenever we decide, but some blessings are one-time-only. God will only reveal certain things to us if we fight, with everything that we have, to pay attention.
Avoidance should be regarded for the danger that it brings to the life of the believer. God’s defining moments in our lives are going to challenge our anxiety. We will all have those days where what is in front of us causes so much tension and anxiety that we fight with everything we have to resist the urge to run in the opposite direction.
Anxiety will make you avoid many defining moments, but while you cannot avoid anxiety, you can decide not to avoid an opportunity. God has made us stronger than anxiety. Therefore, God has made us strong enough to grab the next opportunity for growth or revelation. He always gives us enough grace, mercy, and strength to overcome.
We don’t have to get so tangled up in anxiety that we are lulled into inactivity. We don’t have to avoid the things that make us afraid, stir up consternation, or gives us concern. We can grab enough faith—and we already have it—to overcome our mountain-sized problems with our mustard seed faith.
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.
Luke 10:30-33 NIV
What you do in a defining moment of your life can make the difference to what you will do for the rest of your life. It all centers on what you do with defining moments when they are put in front of you.
We may forfeit these moments in our lives, or we may use them to open up the possibilities that God wants to release in every one of our lives. So, we need to mark our defining moments. We cannot close our eyes and walk through our lives determined to tag along for the ride. We should leave our houses searching for defining moments and discern them in every human exchange that we have.
We shouldn’t even entertain the possibility that we could go through an entire day without a defining moment being a part of it. Every day of your life, defining moments are being gifted to you by God.
In this scripture, we see the priest. His highest duty in the temple was to offer sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. He was entrusted with religious oversight of the entire nation. But on this particular day, he is going from church down to Jericho.
He sees this man who must seemingly be lifeless. He must choose: get involved and risk touching a dead man and become ceremonially unclean or do nothing. So, the priest moves to the other side of the road and determines that he is not going to let this man, dead or alive, define his life.
We shouldn’t judge the priest too quickly, though. Every one of us has to admit that risk shrinks the best of us. We let our want for safety and comfort keep us from defining moments in our lives. When God puts risk in front of us, we are prone to cross over to the other side of the road and walk past the man on the road.
When defining moments are standing before us, we accept that moments always include people. These moments are never just about us. Whatever the priest needed in Jericho or whatever his fears about cleanliness were, none of them were excuses.
When we encounter a defining moment in our lives, we must seize it, because God has put it in front of us to not only help ourselves, but to help others.