I’ve heard it suggested that as a society we should stop using the word “reconciliation”. The main thrust of this argument seems to be that it is unclear what is meant by reconciliation or that it means different things to different people.
I disagree with that suggestion – the word “reconciliation” is a very important Biblical word. In Matthew 5:24, Jesus commands his listeners to be reconciled. I believe it is important that all Christians understand the meaning of this use the word frequently, and most important of all put it into practice. I heard Dr Norman Hamilton speak at an event during the recent 4 Corners Festival in Belfast (www.4cornersfestival.com). He made the point that in many churches there are often sermons focusing on reconciliation but mostly on vertical reconciliation which is about how we as people are reconciled to God through Jesus Christ but very seldom in sermons, he suggested, were there any references to horizontal reconciliation which is about how we are reconciled with one another.
As I understand the words of Jesus in this passage of Matthew’s gospel in his famous Sermon on the Mount, I believe he is saying that whenever we recognise we are at fault in a relationship with another person, we need to go and be reconciled with that person or those people before worshipping God. This biblical imperative, it is a command after all, has huge implications for us as a society in Northern Ireland as we struggle to deal with the legacy of our past. As we search our souls, many of us will recognise that either collectively or individually we have done wrong, in “thought, word or deed”. For leaders of churches, there may have been times when we preached a toxic theology in some of our sermons. As people of faith, it may be through sins of omission, we did not do or did not say what we should have said or done. For those who engaged in violence we have left an enormous legacy of suffering. For people in places of power we accepted and perpetuated unjust and discriminatory structures in our society.
As we face into an election, the words of Jesus in the previous verse are also relevant and challenging: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you…”. This is about self-awareness and not about pointing the finger of blame. We take responsibility for our faults and then we follow this with action along the lines of: “Go and be reconciled”. Simple phrases sincerely meant e.g. “I’m sorry”, “we were wrong”, “we acknowledge we hurt you”, “please forgive me” and if they were received in generosity this would make a significant difference. If we put into practice these words with the necessary inner dispositions of courage, humility and remorse, then we would not only transform the last few days of this election campaign but also the type of society we shape afterwards.
“Go and be reconciled”.
Written by Fr Martin Magill