by Marjorie George
We used to call it “the oughts and the anys”: If any hath ought against thee . . .
It comes from chapter 5 in the gospel of Matthew, verses 23 and 24. The King James Version has it: “Therefore, if thou bring thy gift to the altar and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee, leave thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.”
The Jews of Jesus’ time (to whom he was speaking) had a clear understanding of sacrifice – it had to include confession and repentance. Sacrifice alone could not effect the atonement for which the sacrifice was being offered. And that repentance included making amends to any whom one had wronged. Not even the sacrifices offered on the Day of Atonement could avail a man of God’s forgiveness unless that man first reconciled with his neighbor. No man could be right with God until he was right with his neighbor. Jesus was reminding the Jews of this.
The preface to the confession in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer captures this notion perhaps better than our later versions:
“Then shall the Priest say to those who come to receive the Holy Communion: Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbours, (emphasis mine) and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways; Draw near with faith, and take this holy Sacrament to your comfort; and make your humble confession to Almighty God, devoutly kneeling.”
Before we can enter into the sacrifice that Christ made for us on the cross, we must first confess, repent, and be in right relationship with our neighbors.
Notice that this discussion in Matthew comes directly after Jesus’ admonition about the sin of anger: “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (5:21-22).
So Jesus forbids anger – the anger that leads to hurling insults and the anger that is contemptuous of another. He forbids the anger to which we are rightfully entitled because, after all, we were wronged. He forbids the anger that becomes our constant companion, leaving us perpetually seething. He forbids the anger that refuses to forgive. I knew a woman whose husband was killed in a car accident when their only daughter was pregnant with her first child. In that same accident, the woman suffered no more than the loss of the diamond out of her wedding band. She never forgave God. She lived years – 40 or more – angry at God, angry at life. Then she died. Alone.
And what of those who will not accept our repentance, our longing to make things right; the one who wants to be miserable in his misery a little while longer? Jesus has advice for that, too, and I believe it is “saddle up and git on down the road” (loose translation of Matthew 10:14) – not in anger, maybe in sadness, and always with a distant hopefulness that eventually reconciliation will be a possibility.
Doth any have ought against thee? Go and be reconciled to that one. Then come and lay your gift on the altar.
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Continuing the conversation
Jesus got angry, the best example being when he cleansed the temple (Matt 21:12-13 http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=179385384 ; see also Mk 11:15-19; Lk 19:45-48; Jn 2:13-17) What do we make of that?
How do we reconcile our anger against those who have already died?
We invite your comments, below.