The Sermon on the Mount—“First Make Your Peace With Your Brother”
AFTER warning his hearers about the deadliness of prolonged anger, Jesus directed their thoughts toward rooting out causes of anger. He said: “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”—Matt. 5:23, 24.
“Gift” in this case meant any sacrificial offering that a person might present at Jehovah’s temple. Animal sacrifices were of considerable importance, being commanded by God as part of true worship. But for someone who might recall ‘that his brother had something against him,’ there was a matter of even greater importance. “Leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away,” said Jesus. “First make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”
This might not have been as difficult as it seems, since the usual time for bringing such sacrifices was during the three seasonal festivals of Passover, Pentecost and Booths. (Deut. 16:16, 17) Likely the offended brother would be among the pilgrims who flocked to Jerusalem for these feasts.
One might here recall the Mosaic requirement concerning guilt offerings. In cases of theft, loss or deceit regarding property, God’s law demanded that a repentant guilty person restore the full amount along with an additional 20 percent before presenting his offering. (Lev. 6:1-7) However, Jesus did not limit his comments to guilt offerings and specific transgressions. According to the Son of God, any offering should be postponed if a person remembered that his brother rightly had something against him—something that his conscience told him he had wrongfully done or omitted to do toward his brother, or it may be that he sensed from his brother’s attitude toward him that there was some feeling of offense. In such a case, the offering should be left alive “there in front of the altar,” namely, the altar of burnt offerings in the priests’ courtyard of the temple.
From God’s standpoint one’s relationship with one’s fellowman is a definite, important part of true worship. Animal sacrifices, even to the point of “thousands of rams,” were meaningless to God if those offering them up did not treat their fellowman properly. (Mic. 6:6-8) “For he who does not love his brother, whom he has seen,” writes the apostle John, “cannot be loving God, whom he has not seen.”—1 John 4:20.
Jesus further urged his hearers to avoid delay in rectifying grievances, saying: “Be about settling matters quickly with the one complaining against you at law, while you are with him on the way there.”—Matt. 5:25a.
‘While with the complainant on the way to court’ the offender should vigorously exert himself toward settling the matter out of court. If the offending one were to admit his mistake, express sorrow and indicate a desire to make restitution, likely the one complaining would be inclined to show mercy, perhaps even agreeing to terms that the offender could meet without undue hardship.
Giving a practical reason for such quick settlement of matters, Jesus stated: “That somehow the complainant may not turn you over to the judge, and the judge to the court attendant, and you get thrown into prison.”—Matt. 5:25b.
Once the case got to court, if the defendant was proved guilty and could not pay his debt, the judge might hand him over to a “court attendant.” This official would, in turn, throw the guilty individual into prison. For how long?
“I say to you for a fact,” declared Jesus, “You will certainly not come out from there until you have paid over the last coin of very little value.” (Matt. 5:26) According to the Greek text of Matthew, imprisonment would continue until payment down to the last kodrantes, or “quadrans,” a coin worth a sixty-fourth of the usual day’s wage for agricultural laborers. Unless someone came along and paid the prisoner’s debt, his stay in jail might be for a long period.
Acceptable worship must include proper treatment of one’s fellowman. The apostle Paul counsels fellow believers: “Make this your decision, not to put before a brother a stumbling block or a cause for tripping.” (Rom. 14:13) If such a stumbling block should arise, the Christian must recall Jesus’ words and “be about settling matters quickly.” (Matt. 5:25) “For in loving-kindness I have taken delight,” says Jehovah, “and not in sacrifice.”—Hos. 6:6.