“So 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, ESV
Have you ever looked at a dogs eyes? I grew up with a chocolate lab for years, unfortunately we lived out in the country and he turned up missing, and we never found him. Since then I have always been around dogs. We rescued a German Shepherd, and my in-laws had a German Shepherd, and we have dog sat for friends. I now have a service dog, a yellow lab named Dozer. She has the most forgiving, loving eyes of any dog I have ever been around. I am currently in training to take my service dog home as I just received her yesterday. When I was working with her yesterday I started thinking about the way dogs are so forgiving of our mistakes, and constantly wanting to please.
Reading the Sermon on the Mount you come across several details of common character traits that one would expect of a decent person, and then Jesus takes it a step further. This section that I referenced above is specifically talking about the character trait of not murdering someone. That seems like a pretty simple task, but then Jesus states that we do not even need to come before God with gifts without clearing things up with someone we are at odds with. Going a few verses back we see Jesus say that to be angry with someone to the point that maybe we say “You Fool!” to them is just as bad as committing murder! That seems like a stretch, doesn’t it? This is no different though then the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, stretching our thoughts on what right and wrong according to God’s standards actually are. We, as people typically do not like this idea, of being angry with someone equating to murder, no more then we do not like the idea of having lustful thoughts towards someone meaning adultery. These are hard things to resist in the world we live in. Sure we can resist murder, but anger? Sure we can resist adultery, but lust?
What may be the most common excuse out there for doing these “extra rules” is to say, “but everyone else does it”! However, the problem with that thought is that “everyone else” is not our standard. It would be fine, I suppose, if everyone else was our standard to fluctuate morality and what is right and wrong. However, we have a very clear definition of right and wrong laid out for us in scripture. The result of that definition is that we all have to admit our shortcomings and accept our need for Jesus. This is the thing about forgiveness, and love. To extend love to someone even if we are not so happy with them is hard to do. That makes it all the more meaningful when we do it. Do we need to extend forgiveness, and love to someone? May we learn a lesson from man’s best friend, and God’s creation and realize that forgiveness is not just a recommendation, it is a command in striving towards perfection. Perfection after all is our standard. We may never get as close as dogs, but we can sure dog gone try.