Weekly worship means weekly forgiveness
“If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
St. Matthew presents Christ’s initial teachings in a broad lecture, beginning with the Sermon on the Mount and including the Our Father Chapters 5, 6 & 7. It is in this context that St. Matthew recalls Jesus speaking about the 5th commandment: “Thou shall not kill.”
St. Matthew recounts how Jesus doubled down on this commandment and pointed out that even petty hostility toward our brothers endangers our souls (Matt 5:21-26). Jesus then cautioned his audience against approaching God with hearts burdened with division against our brothers.
Like the people in the time of Christ, we often believe we have good justification for our anger and resentment against others. We can all recall why we harbor these feelings. “She did…” “He did…” “They did…” And all our reasons are clearly legitimate. As if to say: “I have a right to be angry”; or “I have a right to hold a grudge.” And perhaps we do have a right to feel as we do. Our hostile feelings are based on what we recognize as real offenses.
Notice Jesus doesn’t say that our brothers haven’t offended us. Nor does he say that our grievances are not justified. He instead simply says that we must forgive our brothers from our hearts. Why?
When we come before God it is essential that we give God our undivided love.
“You shall love the Lord God with all your heart…” (Deut. 6:4) We can’t give to God unblemished hearts, if part of our heart is committed to hatred or is burdened with resentment toward our brother.
We must first divest ourselves of the anger and bitterness we harbor. As the prophet Joel said, “Rend your hearts not your garments.” (Joel 2:13)
To worthily worship our Lord each week we must first cleanse our heart of malice toward our brothers and sisters. There is no place for angry, resentful people in the loving presence of God.
On the positive side, scripture tells us that “A heart contrite and humbled, O God, you will not spurn.” (Ps 51:19)
A weekly cleansing of our hearts isn’t a bad trade for the acceptance of a loving God.
Finding Faith is written by area pastors. This week’s column comes from Rev. Fr. Joseph Orr of Holy Spirit Catholic Parish, Lock Haven.