Matthew 5:20-26 English Standard Version (ESV)
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother[a] will be liable to judgment; whoever insults[b] his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell[c] of fire.23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you,24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. 26 Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.[d]
Righteousness is one of the main reasons Jesus came. The goal was to pervade His righteousness through every last fiber of our being. Think of the holiest, most righteous person you know or have ever heard about from history. I think Jesus is saying our righteousness must exceed even that. Our righteousness must extend all the way to even our intentions. This isn’t just a moralizing, “don’t kill anyone” lesson here; this is a now-you’ve-gone-from-teaching-to-meddling lesson. Jesus takes righteousness beyond where we want to go. We want righteousness to be about not taking action against someone in anger, but hanging on to the angry thoughts. Jesus says, “I want the angry thoughts, too.”
But if we think this passage is only about teaching us the righteousness Jesus demands extends beyond actions all the way to intent, we miss the main, even earth-shattering point that Jesus is extending righteousness to in this passage-relationship.
Jesus isn’t just saying, “Look, if you are mad at someone, stop being mad at them” and that’ll do it. No, he tells us to not just stop being mad, but to restore the relationship itself.
We first want to not hurt someone and call ourselves good. Jesus then points to our heart and says, “you still desire to hurt them there.” So, then we tell Jesus that we’ve even let go of our desires to harm them, and maybe we’ve even forgiven them, and then we hear, “That’s great, now go and be restored relationally with them!”
This teaching was going along fine for me this morning as I read it prayerfully. I imagined Jesus and I traveling along in a car and Him teaching me these principles personally. And then Jesus slams on the brakes and pulls to the side of the road and brings this passage to a dramatic and screeching halt when He dramatically tells us, “If want to have anything to do with me, bring restored relationships to me along with your offerings because just not being mad ain’t the point!” Ok, so that’s my translation, I admit…
Restored relationships are a fragrant offering to Jesus.
I think Jesus knows are capacity to fool ourselves into thinking our hearts are pure and so he ups the ante and says, “Here’s how to know for sure.”
On Fridays during Lent, our thoughts instinctively turn to the cross where Jesus restored our relationship to Him. What relationships do you need to restore as a fragrant offering to Jesus?
Not all relationships can, or should, be restored to daily contact-or any contact at all. But, through forgiveness and prayer, we can spiritually restore these painful places before God. Are there relationships in your life where you can offer forgiveness to another today, even if only through prayer?