Lectionary Reflection for the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany

This excerpt comes from Matthew (BTCB) by Stanley Hauerwas, commenting on Matthew 5:21-37:

We should not be surprised that Jesus admonishes us not to harbor our anger at our brothers and sisters, but rather we are to seek reconciliation with them. He does not say that we are not to be angry, but rather that we are not to come to the altar of sacrifice unreconciled to the one with whom we are angry.

Anger and sacrifice were cojoined by Cain’s murder of Abel. Angered that God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, Cain killed Abel (Gen. 4:1–16). Jesus now proclaims that the kingdom of repentance has drawn near, breaking the cycle of murder as sacrifice by commanding those who would follow him to be reconciled before offering their gifts at the altar. He not only commands that we be reconciled, but he tells us how we are to practice reconciliation (Matt. 18:15–20).

Jesus charges members of the church to confront those whom we think have sinned against us. He does not say that if we think we have been wronged we might consider confronting the one we believe has done us wrong. Jesus tells us that we must do so because the wrong is not against us, but rather against the body, that is, the very holiness of the church is at stake. Moreover, to be required to confront those whom we believe have wronged us is risky business because we may find out that we are mistaken.

In 1 Cor. 6:1–8 Paul admonishes the Corinthians for taking one another to courts of law presided over by unbelievers. Paul reminds the Corinthians, a reminder that surely draws on Jesus’s admonition not to remain angry with one another, that we should be ready to suffer a wrong rather than act against the body of Christ, for nothing less is at stake than the church offering the world an alternative to the world’s justice. If such a community does not exist, then unbelievers will have no way to know God’s peace.

The church, therefore, has rightly thought confession of sin, penance, and reconciliation necessary for the reception of the Eucharist. How could we dare come to the feast of reconciliation not in unity with our brothers and sisters? The name given that unity is love. The gifts of bread and wine must be brought by those at peace with God and with one another. If we are unreconciled, we best not receive; we dare not dishonor the holiness of the gifts from God.

 

©2006 by Stanley Hauerwas. Published by Brazos Press. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.

Comments

  1. Jesus’ words about anger against a brother are indeed about the community of disciples, since in Mt. 12:49-50 Jesus identifies his disciples as his brothers and sisters. The danger is when anger turns into condemning words like “fool,” since in 7:26 the foolish man is the one who heard Jesus’ words but did not do them. To call a brother or sister a fool is to say they are not true disciples, condemning (murdering) them.

    It is interesting that later in 23:17 Jesus calls the scribes and Pharisees “blind fools.” This is not murder because they are not disciples, not part of the new family of the Father.