Click here if you don’t see subscription options
Kaya OakesJune 15, 2023
Two people embracing each otherPhoto by Melanie Stander, courtesy of Unsplash.

A Reflection for Thursday of the 10th Week in Ordinary Time

“Go first and be reconciled with your brother.” (Mt 5:24)

In today’s reading, Jesus talks extensively not just about forgiveness, but about atonement, repentance and reconciliation. This is a section from the Sermon on the Mount, which begins with the Beatitudes and ends with the advice to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect,” so the expectations being set here are dauntingly high. But in this particular segment, Jesus is giving us advice about forgiveness not as a product, but as a process.

Very often, we press others into forgiveness without really considering the repentance and reconciliation that are crucial steps toward being able to forgive. In her book On Repentance and Repair, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg writes that there are two different Hebrew words used in the context Jesus is describing (171-2). One ismechila, which she writes “might be better translated as ‘pardon,’” and which has the connotation of “relinquishing a claim against an offender.”

God can forgive everyone. For us, however, repentance and reconciliation have to come first.

The other word used to convey forgiveness is slicha, which Rabbi Ruttenberg says includes the idea of looking “with a compassionate eye at the perpetrator” and having some empathy toward them, but only after they have begun the work of repentance. Slicha does not include a requirement “that the victim act like nothing happened.” The primary question that Jewish literature of repentance asks is not how a harmdoer can move on, but instead, “what needs to be done to close accounts?”

Forgiveness, after all, is relational. This is what Jesus reminds us of. Its end goal is either to bring us back into a relationship with someone who’s done us harm, or to allow ourselves release from that relationship. When Jesus tells us to “settle with your opponent quickly,” he reminds us also that forgiveness ultimately comes not from courts, judges or people who feel superior in the ways that they practice their faith, but from God. God can forgive everyone. For us, however, repentance and reconciliation have to come first. Otherwise, what we’re offering is not really forgiveness, but a performance of it.

More: Scripture

The latest from america

A Homily for the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity, by Father Terrance Klein
Terrance KleinMay 22, 2024
Eddie Redmayne as the Emcee in ‘Cabaret’ at the Kit Kat Club at the August Wilson Theatre (photo: Marc Brenner)
The complicity of ordinary Germans in the Holocaust is the central subject of two shows now running in New York City.
Rob Weinert-KendtMay 22, 2024
At center: Republican U.S. House Speaker Mike Johnson sits beside Democratic President Joe Biden during the annual National Prayer Breakfast at the U.S. Capitol in Washington on Feb. 1, 2024. (OSV News photo/Evelyn Hockstein, Reuters)
Your enemies are children of God—and that includes the presidential candidate you can’t stand and his supporters.
“Brothers and sisters, humility is everything. It is what saves us from the Evil One,” Pope Francis said at today’s general audience, concluding his cycle of catechesis on virtue.
Pope FrancisMay 22, 2024