“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Mathew 5: 23-24.)
No one can have a close relationship with God in a vacuum; human beings live within complex social structures; communities made up of family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and even complete strangers. Our relationship with others is a reflection of our relationship with God. When we sin against our neighbor, we also sin against our Lord. If we lie, slander, and hate another person, we have lied, slandered, and hated our own creator. In the first century, many Jewish families traveled long distances to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins; having received forgiveness, they were restored to a right relationship with God. Jesus teaches us that we are to first be reconciled to our neighbor; only then are we permitted to approach the Lord and honor Him with our sacrifices. Today, this commandment, known as ‘making amends,’ is still an essential Christian practice.
When I came to California many years ago, I began working a 12 step program; a system designed to help me overcome a horrible drug addiction. The creators of the program were almost all Christians. In turn, the steps were heavily influenced by the teachings found in the book of James, the Sermon on the Mount, and 1 Corinthians, 13. After becoming a Christian, I discovered that Christ’s command to make amends, likely inspired the founders to create the 8th and 9th steps. The eighth step reads, “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to amends to them all.” The ninth step reads, “Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” From 2005 until today, I’ve continued making amends to those I’ve harmed. I’ve made restitution and paid off every delinquent debt; I’ve also asked for forgiveness from those who were affected by my sins. With every debt paid and every apology given, I’ve felt my spirit drawing nearer to my teacher, my Lord, and my Friend.
Today, in order to move forward with God, you might consider delving in to your past. Examine your previous mistakes. If you’ve stolen from anyone, pay them back; if you’ve lied, and your lies have caused hardship, return and speak the truth. If by mistreating others, you have created resentments, you are commanded to humble yourself, and request forgiveness. Making amends is an important Christian practice. We’ve all sinned; but what we do with those sins will determine whether we grow closer to the Lord, or remain at a distance. The choice is ours to make.
“Lord Heavenly Father, bring to our remembrance the names of those we have harmed; may we approach them and make restitution. Give us the strength and the humility to ask for forgiveness; that we might be reconciled to those who are resentful. We love You Father, we praise You, and we thank You, and we ask and pray all of these things, according to Your will, in Jesus Christ’s name. Amen.” God bless all of you.