Immediately after His Baptism and following the beginning of his public ministry, Jesus, according to the Gospel of Matthew, presents a discourse of moral teachings we have come to know as “The Sermon on the Mount.”
It is a portion of these instructions that we experience in today’s Gospel. Jesus eloquently presents a series of specific and shared understandings or interpretations of the law of Moses and contrasts them with a renewed way of looking at these matters. When we look at the Ten Commandments, which are the essence and the foundation of all law, we can see that their whole meaning can be summed up in one word—respect, or even better, reverence. Reverence for God and for the name of God, reverence for God’s day, respect for parents, respect for life, respect for property, respect for personality, respect for the truth and for another person’s good name, respect for oneself so that wrong desires may never master us—these are the fundamental principles behind the Ten Commandments, principles of reverence for God, and respect for others and for ourselves.
Without them there can be no such thing as law. On them all law is based.
That reverence and that respect Jesus came to fulfil. He came to show people in actual life what reverence for God and respect for others is like.
That reverence and respect which are the basis of the Ten Commandments can never pass away; they are the permanent stuff of man’s relationship to God and to his fellow-men.
He begins these statements with, “You have heard that it was said” and by concluding, saying, “but I say to you”; thus, presenting the true intent of the law through the lens of Jesus’s message. He challenges his disciples to examine the thoughts and attitudes they harbor in their hearts. For those thoughts and attitudes give rise to behaviour that determines who has a place in the kingdom of heaven.
One of those standards highlighted in today’s Gospel is reconciliation. Jesus, through specific examples, shares with His disciples the negative impact of unresolved and conflictive human interactions, offering at the same time a mechanism for accountability and a path towards mending broken relationships.
For real reconciliation to occur, we must not only meditate and identify the offense, but also value the relationship that may be jeopardized by such offense. It requires openness of heart to engage in dialogue and to seek the restoration of that particular relationship. God desires for us to live in relationship with one another. When our relationships are broken, other areas of our lives may become off-balance to the extent that, at times, it may impact our ability to function. As Christians, we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. We are called to build bridges, not walls.
It is practically a common occurrence to hear friends “de-friending” each other’s pages in social media because of political debates or opposing points of views about relevant and challenging topics.
How may we find common ground amid our differences? How may we, create spaces for dialogue and reconciliation?
Jesus came to this world to reconcile us with God. It is that ministry of reconciliation that urges us to remain faithful to our vocation of love where we reject sin while embracing the sinner.
Author and researcher, Brené Brown, shares that “Empathy feels connection while sympathy drives disconnection”. She describes empathy as the ability to take on the perspective of another person while staying out of judgment, recognizing the emotions in other people and communicating that. Brené accurately states that “Empathy is a choice.” Having empathy for those with whom we differ may provide us an opportunity to listen attentively to their perspectives, that may lead to reconciliation or even positive changes in the midst of profound and basic disagreement of ideology.
We can choose to nurture our divides and remain in a state of tension and dissension, or, we may decide to be open to the movement of the Spirit and focus on that which unite us, God’s love for humanity, and work together through our disagreements. Our disagreements, political or not, are not sufficient ground to separate us. We are bonded by something greater.
Avoidance of contact is a defence mechanism we may use to evade our responsibility to foster reconciliation and unity. Reconciliation is hard work. As a church, we have a unique opportunity to become bridge-builders during this time in Australia.
Jesus, our model, faced confrontations with determination and compassion. It is a healthy and necessary balance to mend and maintain challenging relationships.
Jesus’s determination ensured that the dignity of every human being was respected. His compassion showed God’s love to those who were difficult to love. Jesus tells us to look into our hearts.
May we find a balance in these challenging times to maintain a reconciliatory tone while challenging the injustices against God’s children in a way that foster dialogue and build bridges. Not an easy task, but a necessary one.