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The Gift of Reconciliation
By Gordon MacDonald

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23

You would think that when someone brought a gift to the temple, those receiving it would be happy to get it under any circumstances. We assume, under the best of circumstances, that the gift would relieve the oppression of the poor, underwrite the expenses of the temple, or contribute to the income of the clergy. Perhaps it might even open the door for some new "program" or expansion of temple property.

But here is Jesus putting a condition on gifts. Here is Christ, in effect, saying that giving must be preceded by certain actions that are inherently spiritual and relational. In fact, he appears to be discouraging giving if one has not given careful attention to other issues, such as the quality of relationship between the would-be giver and another "brother."

You have approached the altar with your gift, he says, and suddenly you remember that there is a broken relationship out there--with your "brother." In this case the brother may be a relative, a friend, a working colleague. One of you has offended the other, and the offense has caused a significant breach in your relationship. Before you can give, you must repair the relational damage. Jesus' remedy: Leave the gift in front of the altar, find your "brother," reconcile, and then come back and complete the transaction.

Jesus regards giving as a whole-person event. The gift on the altar is not impressive to him if it is not preceded by a "gift" of another kind in another part of life. In this case it is the gift of reconciliation, whether it means asking forgiveness or giving it. Leave your gift where it is and go to your brother.

The temptation for the generous giver is to think that a major gift covers a lot of small issues in another part of one's life. That might have been true among the religious leaders of those days, and perhaps it is true even today. A large gift can close a lot of eyes--but not the eyes of the Lord. He apparently would rather have the giver stay at home with his gift, if he is planning to approach the altar while there is resentment and hostility in the background.

The spiritual life of the generous giver comes more and more into play in these passages. God seeks generous givers. But, first, he seeks generous givers whose hearts are right with him and with others.

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