“Therefore, if thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there shalt remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy gift before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift. Agree with thy adversary quickly, whilst thou are in the way with him, lest perhaps the adversary deliver thee to the judge, and the judge deliver thee to the officer, and thou be cast into prison. Amen, I say to thee, thou shalt not go out from thence, till thou pay the last farthing.” [Matthew 5:23-26]
Whether we want to accept this sobering truth or not, our relationships with other people matter to God. Jesus makes it very clear in this teaching that God does not want us to offer up anything to Him, whether it be prayer, praise, almsgiving, offerings, or service of any type if our relationships with others are not right in His sight.
Jesus commands us to leave unfinished any work for God that we may have begun – no matter how noble that work for Him may be – in order to go and be reconciled to our brother whom we have offended. God desires mercy, not sacrifice.
Reconcile it Right
In the past, I have seen people assisting at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass who are not even speaking with other people a few pews over. I have seen people teaching in the Church or placing money into the offering basket who are not even speaking with priests. I’ve seen priests offering up the Holy Sacrifice at Mass who know they’ve offended people, yet refuse to make it right with them.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus said what He meant, and He meant what He said. With this teaching, the Master attached a very severe warning – one that we rarely hear taught in most homilies. Simply put, Jesus warned us that God expects us to be reconciled with those whom we have offended.
He expects our relationships to be right with others as far as it depends upon us. If we do not make things right with others in this lifetime, when we know that we have offended others, wronged them, or that we need to make things right with them, we will have to “atone” for this in Purgatory.
Where there’s Life…
If it is not possible to be reconciled with others because their death has prevented this, one is bound in his heart and mind to be reconciled to that individual. If forgiveness is needed, then one must forgive, if only in his heart and mind. But if it is possible to be reconciled to that person in this life, God commands us to do it.
We must beware of coming to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass when our relationships with others are not what Christ commands them to be. We must not approach any Sacrament of the Catholic Church when there are fractured relationships standing between us and Our Lord.
If you have genuinely tried to be reconciled with someone in the past, and that individual rejected your overture, God no longer holds you liable. But He will hold you liable if that overture needs to be made, and you refuse to do it because of a lack in humility on your part.
Let’s face it. Usually, when we refuse to patch things up with others – even when we know that we are the ones who did the offending – it’s usually because of a lack of humility on our part.
To the last Farthing
In this life, we might be able to get away with our refusal to apply Christ’s teaching about right relationships to our lives. But what happens when the soul separates from the physical body at death and we find ourselves standing before the throne of the Righteous Judge? According to Christ, if we refused to be reconciled to others, to forgive others, and to do whatever was necessary and possible on our part to achieve peace with others, we will be sent to Purgatory until “we have paid the last farthing.”
Saints Cyprian, Ambrose, and Origen interpret Jesus’ teaching in this regard to refer to the fires of Purgatory, not Hell. Once a person is cast into Hell, he or she can never be released. Since Jesus spoke of a person “not being released until they have paid the last farthing,” it is believed that He is referring to Purgatory. Men can be released from Purgatory, but from Hell, which is eternal punishment, one can never be released.
If we wish to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, we must embrace discipleship on Christ’s terms, not our own. In our quiet time, we need to ask the Lord to show us if there are relationships that need to be made right in His sight.
We need to be honest with ourselves and ask if we have truly done all that we could to achieve peace and reconciliation with someone who may be offended at us. Jesus warns that we need to do these things now, while we live in the body and dwell on the earth. Once we step into eternity, our obedience to this particular teaching of Christ will mean the difference between Heaven or Purgatory.
Let us put aside our excuses, justifications, and rationalizations when it comes to making things right with others. In eternity, what we think won’t matter – only what Christ has commanded will be upheld in the courts of Heaven, and we will be judged according to our obedience or disobedience to those commands.
He who has a listening ear, let him hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church.