Being right with God is being right with each other
We were about to receive communion, when our pastor reminded us that we had to be right with the Lord in order to be worthy participants. He stressed a personal relationship with Jesus. When I was an active pastor, I, too, used a similar approach and stressed Paul’s caution (I Corinthians 11:17-34). On our way home, the question hit me, “How can I be right with God who cannot be reached physically?” I was challenged to re-examine my relationship with Christ and there was a missing link between us. Yes, Christ stands between God and man; but, who stands between Christ and me? Is there someone that can hinder my relationship with Christ? The answer is a “Big Yes!”
To begin with, I would assume that my tendency to sin or disobedience to God’s law would be the primary reason why I should not take communion. Paul, however, makes no mention of personal transgressions. Instead, he was concerned with a lack of interaction between the participants. He told the Corinthians, who had four groups competing for being right with the Lord (I Corinthians 1:12), “I have no praise for you, because your meetings do more harm than good” (I Corinthians 11:17). Among them were differences, disagreements, divisions, and disrespect for each other. The rich despised and humiliated those that could not bring gifts. Communion had become a competition where one group proved itself more worthy than the other. They were not together in remembering what Christ had done for everyone. They were actually shaming the Body of Christ and the Church. The Corinthians had a broken relationship with each other and therefore had no relationship with Christ. Paul told Timothy that in a large house there are many vessels, some of gold, some of silver, some of wood and some plain earth, but all can change so God can use them (I Timothy 2:20-21). In the Eucharist, all can join to be one by regarding others higher than themselves (Romans 12:3).
Jesus was even more specific regarding the link that can forfeit a person’s relationship with God. It was closer than being related by natural birth; yet, it was brotherly. This brotherliness was based on doing the will of God as demonstrated by Jesus the Christ. When Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see Him, He pointed to his disciples and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and my sister and mother” (Matthew 12:31-35). Jesus made this distinction because his mother and his siblings thought that He had strayed (Mark 3:21). That was an insult and an absolute disruption of a sibling relationship. His own family regarded Him as being beside Himself and that bordered on being demonic and an unforgivable offense. They were denying that Jesus was doing the will of God (Matthew 5:22; 12:30-32). The slightest nitpicking is harmful to being brotherly, like looking for specks in other spiritual siblings’ eyes. Such insignificant faultfinding is similar to feeding pearls to dogs. Such tinny and silly behavior can tear a brotherhood apart (Matthew 7:3-6). That is as low as a brother can fall.
Jesus stressed two significant things His followers had to do before they could bring an offering or gift to God. To Paul, it meant that we bring ourselves (Romans 12:1). It had to do with worshipping God or having communion with each other in Christ. To Jesus, we must first be reconciled to our spiritual siblings that have something against us before we approach God or Christ. The Lord is a strict judge and He will not let us off the hook (Matthew 5:23-26). To be right with God, also means that we must get along with other human beings; especially, those that are of the same persuasion. The lack of reconciliation is keeping us out of the kingdom of God. Getting along with each other is the same as being right with God. God does not need our apologies or enumerations, but our brothers and sisters do.
Reconciliation is an endless work of forgiveness (Matthew 18:21-22). In The Parable on the Unmerciful Servant, Jesus made it very clear what God expects of us. The Master or the One holding the debt does forgive when we forgive each other. It is more than just forgive in words but in actual deeds. It is setting others free from paying us back instantly. It was not a matter of not repaying the debt, but of equal treatment. The one with the greater debt did not share his release from obligations with the servant or brother below him. Jesus concluded, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:23-35). Jesus made forgiveness part of our daily prayer (Matthew 6:12, 14-15).
Reconciliation helps us deal with each other’s faults. We do things that are annoying and offending (Luke 17:1-4). Jesus gave specific instructions how to deal with our erring spiritual ways. First, on a one to one we are to remind each other of the things that keep us apart. Secondly, if we cannot resolve our differences, we need to seek help from mediators. Thirdly, if one of us still does not see our erring, we need to inform the congregation. Fourthly, if one of us refuses to change, then the willing one is set free and the unwilling one is not doing what is right with the Lord (Matthew 18:15-17). Reconciliation is man’s way to heaven. Jesus put it thus, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18). Reconciliation is the tie that either binds or frees us from each other and with or from a relationship with God. John, the disciple of love, declared that loving our spiritual siblings is proof that God lives in us (I John 4:7-21). We must look out for each other!