Matthew 5:21-30 and Excerpts from Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child by Thich Nhat Hanh
Sunday February 12th, 2023
Rev. Nicole Lamarche
Good morning and welcome again everyone! It’s the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany and in this country maybe the most important holiday of the entire year, Super Bowl.
We welcome you as you are and as we come to this time in our gathering, I invite you now to take some deeper breaths right now, to let yourself arrive a bit more fully, as we hope to hear, whatever word God has for us this day.
God may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
After the end of one long, brutal chapter, came the reckoning, the hope of some kind of reconciling, after the terror. Out of pain from decades of racial apartheid- legalized discrimination and domination, where thousands of lives were lost and millions were brutalized and marginalized, the first democratic government in South Africa established the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
The new Commission was chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, appointed in December 1995, who said that it could be, “an incubation chamber for national healing, reconciliation and forgiveness…”
But many mocked it, warning that it would be impossible, ridiculous, a waste of time. As you might remember, the main purpose of the Commission was to promote reconciliation and forgiveness among both perpetrators and the victims and more specifically, it was charged with three tasks:
to discover the causes and nature of human rights violations in South Africa between 1960 and 1994
to identify victims with a view to paying reparations;
and to allow amnesty to those who fully disclosed their involvement in politically motivated violations.
Recounting that time as a reporter, Akaash Maharah wrote of his interview with Desmond Tutu. The Bishop told him about the desperate imperative to enable South Africans to “bridge the chasm” that remained after apartheid and described the foundations of what would later become the Commission. He paused, and asked the reporter, “So, what do you think?”
And the reporter replied, “I think this idea is just bonkers.”
An essential part of the process was that the Commission would offer amnesty in the hope of encouraging perpetrators to come forward and to “give full, public confessions of the crimes they had committed.” The objective then was to ensure that the true horrors would be fully unveiled, and the suffering of the victims and the harm caused openly acknowledged so that everyone could move forward with communal reconciliation.
The report went on and clarified with Bishop Tutu, “Perhaps I am misunderstanding,” “but do you mean political leaders could be invited to step forward, to tell the entire world about their ghoulish crimes like mass murders, then be allowed to stand up, turn away from grieving families and saunter out the door, forever immune from prosecution?” No, he had not misunderstood. The idea of this Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be different than justice.
To the reporter, this idea, he said, seemed like, “the prelude to a bloodbath.” But what happened was that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission proved to be as one writer put it, “a miracle of the modern age.” 1
And still many of us have reflected on how radical reconciliation seems. Doesn’t that seem like a wild concept right now? Something that might not even be possible in many situations.
We are nearing the end of our series A New Dream for an Old Faith and today we are talking about how conflict can be an avenue of transformation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission is of course an extraordinary example, but I think even if we scale this down to our individual lives, there are really important truths for each of us.
In this story we heard in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus offers some direct instructions and as is his teaching style, he does this thing where he says, you have heard it like this, but I say, how about like this? And he goes on to say something about if you are in a fight, get things clear. And you will see in the text even on the way to court, try even to get the (judge) accuser to hear you.
First be reconciled… And he goes on to suggest what to do if you are wronged in public, first try to connect to the accuser, he says you have heard that you shouldn’t cheat on your wife, but I say to you, take responsibility for the part that comes first, the lust. And next he gets dramatic, “if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.” I wonder if that is a First Century way of saying that if you never reconcile, if you are always driven by anger, if there are people in a family or parts of an organization that can’t or won’t try to reconcile or to forgive and or forge a way forward, it can bring the whole thing down, the whole body, the whole system. I think that’s what he meant. Reconciliation doesn’t mean staying in relationship with those who have treated us badly or caused us harm although maybe it could get there. I think what Jesus means by this is that our call is to hang on when it’s hard when we are able, because sometimes miracles can happen. And that it will be a gift to us and others and to the whole organism, if we can forgive where it is possible and needed or let go of grudges where there are gaps.
I have observed in many areas of life that conflict infused with kindness can lead to not just generative conversations, but new ways of thinking and being, different kinds of relationships that never before seemed possible. Renowned leadership expert and Harvard Professor Ronald Heifitz contends that disagreement can actually be a driver of creativity. In the book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership he and his colleague Marty Linsky wrote, “Some of the most creative ideas come out of people in conflict remaining in conversation with one another rather than flying into their own corners or staking out entrenched positions.”
Doesn’t that feel like a time when people are quick to fly into corners? To ghost or cut off or step away when conflict avoidance no longer works? Not just in politics.
I think even under the best of circumstances it is difficult to disagree without being disagreeable, but I think it’s important and perhaps even essential for us, for our spiritual lives and for this spiritual community right now. What if conflict managed faithfully and thoughtfully can be transformational? And what if conflict is sometimes needed to get to the heart of things? To reveal what it is we really care about. Max Lucado wrote, “Conflict is inevitable but combat is optional.”
It’s notable that Jesus does not prohibit or condemn anger, at least not that I can find. And we even get moments in the Gospels where he is mad and yells. But still it is untransformed anger he is talking about, he doesn’t condemn anger itself. Because anger is natural. It is normal. What matters is what we do with it. Jesus gives us teachings and shows us that we can transform our anger into something else and as scholar Glen H. Stassen wrote, when we are doing that, we initiate acts that manifest the reign of God in our midst, right here and now.
Scholar Ronald Allen wrote, “These readings invite the congregation to live as if the realm is fully present.” Trying for reconciliation is nothing less than trying to bring heaven here on earth.
This is the only place Jesus uses this word. In Greek it’s diallassó and it implies an exchange, a mutual concession, where enmity is shifted to something else.
What a gift that we have this community, and ideally any church at its best, is a place where we can practice conflict without combat, even in a time where the world seems to know that language well.
Here we can see tension as transformational, when we approach it faithfully. We can welcome our anger, acknowledge it, see it and turn it. As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote of how to get to reconciliation, “give your anger, your despair, your fear, a bath of mindfulness every day.”
First be reconciled, means in part, that we are called to try to restore where we can, to be engaged in mutual exchanges that bring us deeper and draw the circle wider. Let us, “bridge the chasm.” It could be the miracle of the modern age. May it be so. Amen.
©Rev. Nicole M. Lamarche