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 where we still get to hang on to our angry thoughts. Jesus says, “I want the angry thoughts, too.”
But if we think this passage is only about teaching us that righteousness includes intent, and not just our actions, if we aren’t careful, we’ll miss the main, even earth-shattering point: Jesus is saying righteousness also includes 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 stop being mad at someone is good, but it’s not enough; we must also restore the relationship.
Jesus knows what we really want is to deceive ourselves into goodness. We want to choose not to hurt someone (that really deserves it) so we can call ourselves good.
So Jesus looks at us and points squarely to our heart and says, “But in here, where I am, you still desire to hurt them.” So, we tell Jesus that we’ve even let go of our desires in our heart to harm them, and that we’ve even forgiven them, and then we hear, “That’s great, now go and be restored relationally with them!”
Jesus just keeps upping the die-to-self ante until we find union with Him and unity with others.
This teaching from Jesus 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 and dramatically tells me, “If want to have anything to do with me, bring restored relationships to me along with your offerings because just not being mad at someone ain’t the point!” Ok, so that’s my translation, I admit…but wouldn’t it be cool if Jesus said “ain’t”?
Restored relationships are a fragrant offering to Jesus.
I think Jesus knows our capacity to fool ourselves into thinking our hearts are pure and so He keeps pressing us to die to self by placing unity and relationship at the heart of righteousness.
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?