Thinking today about the text: “If you are bringing your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, first go and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.”
The striking thing about this has always been for me: “remember that your brother has something against you.” What became clear to me today is that this text is for the offending party. If you have wronged someone, or learn that they think you have done so, you as the offender are under obligation to go seek reconciliation; essentially to ask for forgiveness, or at least enter into some dialogue to clarify why the other feels wronged. Note that the offended person is not asked to go seek out the offending brother. Why is that?
Answer: Very simple. The person who has been in any way wronged or offended already has another instruction from Jesus, which takes priority: it is to forgive.
Forgiveness on the part of the offended believer is a foregone conclusion, not even under discussion in the above passage. In commenting on the Lord’s Prayer (“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespassed against us“) he says: “For if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will my Father forgive you.” Punch line to a parable: “So shall my heavenly Father do to each of you if you do not forgive your brother from the heart.”
Forgiveness is the beginning, the essence, the core, the heart of Christian faith and practice. Without it there is nothing left but mere morality, one which manifests in the worst kinds of self-righteousness. In the context of our text above, there is no question that the person offering the gift has already done what is necessary for the offended party toward reconciliation; they have forgiven, released, let go of the offense and the offender. That action can be taken unilaterally, right there in the presence of God. But if “your brother has something against you“, there is a broken relationship that needs mending. You already have nothing against your brother.