Robert Wurtz II
But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:23-26)
I have chosen to quote this entire passage as I wish to take an unusual angle on these teachings. In the first verse we read, but I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. Some translations omit, ‘without a cause’, but I believe it belongs there. The truth is, there is never a cause to be angry with our brother or sister in a protracted sense as we see playing out in this passage. We ought to forgive and that is true enough. However, a careful reading of the text reveals an element in the process that is all too often perilously overlooked. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Notice how being angry in our first verse leads to name-calling in the next. They start out with the word raca (scoundrel) and end up calling the person a fool (dull and stupid). I submit that why this is happening is that the person offended needs to be reconciled with and to prolong that process only fuels the offended person’s anger and disqualifies the offender from being a worshipper. What says the passage? First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Both Parties in Distress
Here we have the offended and the offender. The offended is getting angrier to the point that they have become an adversary. Notice, Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny. This is never more true than with our relationship with God. As a sinner, we are told not to neglect so great of salvation lest we have to pay for every transgression and disobedience we have ever committed. (Hebrews 2) Yet this plays out in all kinds of ways in life. An offender may run from the law, but this only heightens the offense. Once they are caught they typically have even more problems. The solution? Again,
Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison.
This means that we need to seek for mercy and not take mercy for granted. Because the truth is, not every one is going to show you mercy. Why? Because no one deserves mercy. Mercy is shown as an act of benevolence. A judge can give you what you deserve and so can people, even at the peril of their own soul. How? We have it here again, And whoever says to his brother, “Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. The person that is angry and acting out is in danger of God’s judgment. But when a person is severely offended they often don’t care about that at the moment. This is why we are told to be angry and sin not, not to allow the sun to go down on our wrath and give place to the Devil. But before Paul ever spoke those words, Jesus spoke these, Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. The offender always has first responsibility to be reconciled.
Such is the way of an adulterous woman; she eateth, and wipeth her mouth, and saith, I have done no wickedness. (Proverbs 30:20)
One of the prerequisites for forgiveness is acknowledgement. 1 John 1:9 says that if we ‘acknowledge’ our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins. This is shown most clearly in the life of David when he wrote Psalm 51:4 saying, Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight: that thou mightest be justified when thou speakest, and be clear when thou judgest. This is also modeled in the confession of the Prodigal Son, And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. (Luke 15:21) Obviously these men thought about what they had done and what they deserved. And coming to repentance there was this understanding and acknowledgement of what had happened. How do we know that David repented of his adultery? He never committed the sin of adultery again. In the words of Jesus, “He went and sinned no more.” (John 8:11)
This is what elders should look for when a person has fallen in the faith. Do they show signs of really acknowledging what they have done was before the Lord? Moreover, if the adulterous woman in Proverbs 30:20 had reacted as did the Prodigal Son she would repented before God and said to her husband, “I am no longer worthy to be called thy wife.” But instead she obstinately refuses to rightly acknowledge. It would be like the Prodigal Son coming home wiping his mouth as if he deserved to be back in the house because he had offended no one. This wrong attitude is what gives rise to a Matthew 5:23-26. The father longed for the son to come home and watched daily to see him. The only reason the story works is because the son humbled himself and acknowledged his sin.
Have you ever met a person so difficult that their actions caused people around them to want to quit and give up? Many years ago in grade school there was a boy in the class who was always testing the patience of our teacher. Finally one day he acted out so bad that she just put her head down on the desk and cried. All the students were mortified at the sight — including the unruly boy. It’s been nearly forty years and I can still see him as He bolted to the desk and began patting her on the head repeating the words, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” I have never forgotten her response. She lifted her head and gave him a death stare that would make a grown man tremble. Through the tears and blood-shot eyes she growled out the words, “Cody, I don’t want to hear ‘I’m sorry…’ I just want you to stop it.” Forgiveness of behavior came easy for her. She would have gladly forgiven him. But that would not have solved the problem. He wanted forgiveness after he saw how bad his actions had battered her; but all she wanted was the behavior to stop.
There is a tragic ancient story found on an old decayed papyrus fragment, of a prodigal Egyptian boy named Antonis Longus, who had quarreled with his dear widowed mother. They got into a spat, and he ended up leaving home. He then embarked on a life of prodigal living. The mother longed for her son to return home and even went looking for him in strange cities. In ancient times when a person was lost, it was very difficult to find them as one had to almost see them face to face in order to identify them. This mother searched and searched for her lost son — longing to reestablish communication. In time, she happened upon a family acquaintance named Postumus that reminded the mother of every last offense her son had committed. He then included the troubles he had gotten into since their estrangement. The two parted, and she went back home.
Over the course of time, Postumus happened upon Antonis Longus, the prodigal son. He told him of how he had saw his mother some time ago and had reminded her of how bad a boy he is. Perhaps Postumus rationalized that it is better in these circumstances for the mother to be angry at her son than mourning over him. However, Antonis was crushed by this news and angered by what this man had done. He was moved to know that his dear mother had been looking for him so desperately.
Postumus had driven an even deeper wedge between Antonis Longus and his mother; almost to the point of hopelessness. It was this occasion that gave rise to his hastily written letter:
“Antonis Longus to Nilus [my] mother many greetings. Continually do I pray that you are in health. […] I wish you would understand that I had no hope that you would go up to the metropolis. And therefore I did not come there. But I was ashamed to come to Caranis, because I walk about in rags. I write [or “have written”] to you that I am naked. I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled to me. Furthermore, I know what I have brought upon myself. I have been chastened in every way. I know that I have sinned. I have heard from Postumus, who met you in the country around Arsinoe and out of season told you everything. Do you not know that I would rather be maimed than know that I still owe a man money? . . . . come thyself! I beseech thee … I beseech thee…”
He says a few more hard to decipher words, and then the the papyrus breaks off. Imagine being the archaeologist that located this fragment after some 2000 years and wondering if Antonis ever found and reconciled with his mother. He had referred to himself using his mother’s childhood endearing name for him “Antonius.” The poor boy was a bad speller, but he used the same construction Jesus used when he said, prōton diallagēthi (get reconciled) in Matthew 5:24. The sentence, “I beseech thee, mother, be reconciled (dialagēti) with me.” The crumbling old paper ends with the words of this woman’s dear son begging her, “I beseech thee… I beseech thee…” In more modern language we would read the words, “Mother, I’m begging you… I’m begging you…!” (Light from the Ancient East, pp 187-192)
Our Greek verb for reconciled is unique and is only used once in the New Testament. In the TDNT Kittel informs us that the word denotes mutual concession after mutual hostility. The word carries an expectation that both parties who were angry at each other are to work together until the anger is put away and there is reconciliation. Concession implies yielding to one another in such a way that an agreement can be made. This is a two party process. In the case of Antonis, his mother reached out for him and he reached back out for her. This is instructional. However, the trouble was that Postumus was sowing division and interrupting the process.
We have no idea if this boy and his mother were ever reconciled. They have long since gone to their reward. What we do know is that if there is breath in our lungs we can make things right between one another. Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:24 NKJV)