Reconciliation : The hallmark of Christianity

Roderick Wijunamai *

Consciously founded on Scripture, reconciliation is the hallmark of Christianity. Reconciliation is painful but powerful. It takes grace and patience, which can only be derived from God. It involves many torturous conversations and a lot of self-examination. Reconciliation can occur in any situation. Anger, hurt, resentful alienation—they are what divides family, friends and communities. It divides churches. It brings people and even nations to war. Anger towards another person, not dealt with, can ruin a person's health. It can ruin a person's life. But forgiveness and reconciliation is what brings them back to health, happiness and hope.

Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: ''So, if you are standing before the altar in the temple, offering a sacrifice to God, and suddenly remember that a friend has something against you, leave your sacrifice there beside the altar and go and apologize and be reconciled to him, and then come and offer your sacrifice to God. Come to terms quickly with your enemy before it is too late. " (Matthew 5:23-25) This is the word of our Lord.

Make wrong relationships right. Whether it's your brother or your friend or your enemy. Even if you're in a church meeting about to sing a solo, leading a prayer or turning in your pledge card, Jesus says, go and be reconciled. Then, you may come back and finish worshipping God after you've made things right with your enemy.

Jesus is translated in the King James Version, as having said, "Agree with thine adversary quickly. " Get it sorted out in time before it builds up into something even worse. If a quarrel or dispute is not healed quickly, it can breed worse and worse feelings.

Bitterness breeds bitterness. Homes become battlefields. Neighbours stop speaking to one another. Feuds develop. People get hurt.. Whereas if, at the beginning, one person had the willingness and the gumption to take the first step and make apology - admit to some fault - the whole sorry mess might be avoided. It may be painftil, but it's powerfully important.

I like the way Eugene Peterson, in his New Testament paraphrases the passage from Matthew 18:18-20. The Message reads: Jesus said, "Ifa fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him. Work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you've made a friend. If he won't listen, take one or two others along, so that the presence of witnesses will keep things honest, and try again. If he won't listen to the church, you'll have to start over from scratch, confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God's forgiving love. "

Whether someone else is upset with you or you are upset with.someone else, it's your responsibility, Jesus says, to act in order to affect reconciliation. You take the initiative to be reconciled. Now, that is a wonderful principle. There's only one problem. It's totally counterintuitive. When someone hurts you or mistreats you, the last thing in the world you feel like doing is being aggressively kind and forgiving. You either want to fight back or withdraw. You want to hurt that person or turn away from them You certainly don't want to take the initiative with gentle forgiveness. So, alienations escalate terribly.

You might say, "Well, I just couldn't forgive someone who had done such terrible things to my family." You probably couldn't, and I couldn't either. Yet, in the book of Hebrews it says, "Let it be your ambition to live at peace with all men. "

Then it says something interesting. "Be careful that none of you fails to respond to the grace which God gives you. For if he does, there can very easily spring up in him a bitter spirit which is not only bad in itself, but can also poison the lives of many others. " When you are wrong, or maligned or hurt, the natural response is to let the poison flow. But God, Hebrews says, has given grace to the true Christian.

God has given to you without holding back his Holy Spirit. The Spirit in your life can give you love, and understanding and even forgiveness, even when you don't have a drop of it naturally. You can be reconciled to anybody because there is God - not because you have this great reservoir of goodness inside you. You do have it inside you, but it's not you. It's the love of God that Has come into your life by the Holy Spirit, when you put faith in Jesus Christ.

Many times, people will say, "How can there be true reconciliation when there is no justice. I just want justice first and then we can be reconciled." But let me remind you, before Apartheid came to South Africa, several theologians put together a now famous document, known as the Kairos document. This is what they said:
"In our situation in South Africa today (this is before Apartheid was dismantled) it would be totally unchristian to plead for reconciliation and peace before the present injustices have been removed. Any such plea would play into the hands of the oppressor by trying to persuade those who are oppressed to accept our oppression, and become reconciled to the intolerable crimes that are committed against us. That is not Christian reconciliation. It is sin. It is asking us to become accomplices of our own oppression - to become servants of the devil. No reconciliation is possible in South Africa without justice."

What they are saying is, "Look, people who want to be at peace with us and reconcile want to keep on oppressing 1 us the way they always have. It's not right. They don't want reconciliation. They just want peace. But that kind of peace isn't peace. Let us have justice first, and then we can talk about reconciliation."

Now, I want to put a tiny question mark in front of that reasoning. It's true that God is passionate about justice. The Church must always be deeply involved in trying to see that all people are treated justly. But justice is often in the eye of the beholder, and justice is not always possible, especially for sins of the past. Most importantly, just justice doesn't create communion and community between people. If one person terribly mistreats another and then is justly punished, justice may be done, but deep true peace isn't the result. People will still be at odds with one another.

When a husband and wife are not speaking to each other, they don't need a fair and equitable settlement of their argument, they need reconciliation and forgiveness. They need communion restored. There is certainly a place for this attitude, to be angry at injustice. That's appropriate. But most of us, if we are honest, don't bum with indignation and anger about injustices in society.

Most of us get angry at offenses towards ourselves. Jesus became angry but never when he himself was being sinned against. When he was unjustly arrested, unfairly tried, illegally beaten, spitefully spit upon and crucified - when he had every reason to be infuriated - Peter says he did not retaliate and made no threats, rather the only words he uttered were, Father, forgive them for they don't know what they are doing. "

That's our pattern. Often when we get angry at others we may be fooling ourselves and thinking that we are defending the truth and what is right, but really deep down we are more concerned about defending ourselves. Jesus says forgive. If you do not forgive men their trespasses, He says, your heavenly Father will not forgive you. That is so hard.

At every level of society reconciliation is so important: in the home, in the neighbourhood, between communities. There are too many old sins and ancient grievances to be resolved. Can a spirit of community ever be established there unless the leaders are willing to embrace one another with forgiveness and wash one another's feet? That's the kind of miracle that eventually happened in South Africa because there, leaders of the major parties put relationship above rights. They are still working at justice, but they put relationship first. As Proverbs says, "Hatred stirs up strife but love covers all transgressions."

* Roderick Wijunamai wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is an MPhil candidate at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Development Research, Mumbai
This article was posted on November 25, 2017.

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