Leave Your Gift at the Altar
Matthew 5:23-24 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.
Most Christians who know their Bible tend to think of Matthew 18:15-17 when they think of how to handle offenses they might have. Matthew 18 gives us a process, and many a sorrow would be avoided if more believers heeded its advice. Matthew 5 talks about offenses too but it provides a different and dramatic scenario to deal with a different kind of offense.
Matthew 18 says that “if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.” Matthew 5 tells us what to do when we remember that a brother (or of course, a sister) has something against us. It paints a picture of the moment an Israelite would come to the temple to bring a sacrificial offering, seeking the Lord’s forgiveness. In the moment of hand-off to the priest, that tender moment of faith in the Lord that bringing this sacrifice would work to cover their sin, the one seeking forgiveness remembers that someone has a complaint (a legitimate one, from the context) against him. Quite inconveniently and going against conventional views of common sense and efficiency of time, the Lord tells us to leave the gift there—in the middle of the process of sacrifice—and go get reconciled.
First, notice the urgency that defies our logic. Why not finish out the process of sacrifice and then go to the offended brother? Why expend the time and effort to come back and complete what you began when you could just as easily complete the sacrifice and then go on to the next task?
Secondly, this is another instance where the Lord works to blur the lines we tend to erect between the Lord and our Christian family. In preparing to take communion, for instance, we’re told that the one “who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself” (I Corinthians 11:29). When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he blurred the lines by mixing in our love of God with love of neighbor. Mark 11:26, Jesus says that “whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”
Stopping a sacrifice in mid-offering is a dramatic move. Jesus must think that division in the body of Christ is so important an issue that He tells us to do that if we remember that someone has ought against us. There are many things to get out of this, but let me reduce them to two:
Take care of personal relationship conflicts quickly. No, there are no more animal sacrifices to find ourselves in the middle of, but this picture tells us that speed and direct action are of the utmost importance.
This also reminds us that growing spiritually with Jesus is inextricably interwoven with our relationships with our brothers and sisters. He is placing personal reconciliation right in the center of our most heartfelt connection with God, in effect placing human relations smack dab in the middle of our worship of the Lord.
We offer sacrifices of worship, love and service. Let’s be open to hearing from the Lord that a human situation must be attended to if we are to complete the sacrifice we are offering to God.
Prayer: Lord, help me to see the deep connection You see between how we worship You and how we are to love our neighbor, and specifically our Christian brothers and sisters. Please don’t let me get away with artificially separating them or with letting my idea of convenience and ease override what Your word is telling me.