Step 8: “Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Scripture for Sunday: Matthew 5:23-24
23 So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.
Notes on The Text:
I love the dramatic moment Jesus presents in his call to action in this scripture. He presents a typical scenario of something people would have been very familiar with. Going to give an offering before God at the altar would have been a high religious moment in one’s life. Bringing an offering to God was one of the most important duties of a faithful Jew. But Jesus followed the prophetic tradition of challenging the validity of sacrificial offerings if they were not accompanied with justice and mercy (1 Samuel 15;22, Psalm 51:16-17, Isaiah 1:13). Jesus saw that offerings could not be separated from making amends to our brothers and sisters. So leaving the altar at the high moment of sacrifice or offering was the way one should behave if they remembered that they had wronged someone. Imagine the scene of someone going to the altar to give an offering and all of a sudden, they end up leaving to seek reconciliation with someone they had harmed. Highly dramatic and symbolic act!!!
Jesus called his listeners to abandon their sacred duty to fulfill a greater mission for healing and justice in the world. At the time of Jesus. In fact, some believed that offering animal sacrifices at the temple could take the place of making amends for wrongs done. Jesus used an interpretive method of scripture where not every line would be given the same weight. We call this today: “Weighing the scriptures.” Some scriptures carry heavier weight than others. Jesus saw that the heavier scriptures were the ones related to justice, mercy, and faith. This didn’t mean that the lighter scriptures were to be neglected. It just meant that the heavier ones were supposed to take priority if there was to be a conflict or if the lighter law was going to get in the way of obeying the heavier law.
Jesus gave more weight in his teachings to justice and mercy which led him to teach that making an offering in worship was to be secondary to making amends to those one might have harmed. Jesus affirmed the teachings of the Jewish faith by helping his followers get to the heart of the matter. Jesus was not interested in just changing the symptoms of the problem. He was interested in dealing with the root causes of our human struggles. The part we are focusing on has to do with unresolved anger and hurt. Jesus knew that violence does not begin with murder. It begins with our negative and angry thoughts about others. Jesus was not denouncing anger in general. He was talking about a specific kind of anger, the anger that is a continual state of being. He was talking about holding grudges and stewing in our angry feelings. Unresolved anger can lead us into violent thoughts, words and even actions. Jesus invited the listeners to be proactive about seeking reconciliation. Even as one is doing their religious duty of bringing their offerings to God, one has to leave that duty and get their affairs in order before being truly able to pray and to be present to God. An open heart to God comes from our ability to resolve and complete our relationships. Not making amends creates barriers for us and not just with the people we have hurt, but also with our ability to feel whole and open to others.
The teachings of Jesus about making amends help us see the importance of Step 8 for our spiritual health. If we are to truly worship and open our hearts to God, we can’t be holding on to the pain of the past. We also have to recognize that the damage of our mistakes is something we can deal with. We have to be willing to be honest with ourselves, just like Jesus said to make this kind of work a priority. Of course, this is easier said than done. It is much easier to make a list of the people who have harmed us. This comes to us naturally because our egos keep track of that, but if we look at the list of people we have harmed, we have to do some digging because we often justify our actions and rationalize the harm we have caused. This step is counter-intuitive but has tremendous power to release us and the people we have harmed. In his book Breathing Under Water, Richard Rohr writes, “God fully forgives us, but the ‘karma’ of our mistakes remains, and we must still go back and repair the bonds that we have broken. Otherwise others will not be able to forgive us, will remain stuck, and we will both remain a wounded world….’Amazing grace’ is not a way to avoid honest human relationships, but to redo them -but now gracefully -for the liberation of both sides.”
In the Big Book of AA Step Eight is about taking concrete steps to “repair the damage done in the past, to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self-will and run the show ourselves. If we haven’t the will to do this, we continue to ask God until it comes.” (A.A. Big Book, p.76).
Jesus was fully aware of the importance of clearing this debris. Not making amends creates barriers for us and not just with the people we have hurt, but also with our ability to feel whole and open to others. Holding on to grudges creates more pain and emotional debris in our lives. It robs us of the ability to find healing and wholeness.
Today we are invited to make a list of the people we have harmed and to become willing to make amends. I know that this is no easy task. Yet, we approach this task with faith and with the grace of God knowing that it will help set us and others free.
A Franciscan Prayer for Peace:
by Chuck Faso
Lord, make us instruments of your Peace
In a world all too prone to violence and revenge,
We commit ourselves to the Gospel Values of
Mercy, Justice, Compassion, and Love;
We will seek daily to promote forgiveness and healing
in our hearts, our families, and our world.
Where there is hatred, let us sow Love;
Where there is injury, let us cultivate Peace
Fear and distance prevent people from recognizing all
as brothers and sisters;
tensions lead to violence and mistrust;
We will strive to honor the dignity that God places
in each and every human person.
Grant that we may not seek to be understood as to Understand;
To be loved as to Love
Our failure to understand the other can create exclusion
in all its negative forms –
racism, marginalization of those who are poor, sick, the immigrant;
it can also create situations of domination, occupation, oppression and war.
We pledge to seek the way of solidarity,
to create hearts, homes, and communities
where all people will experience inclusion, hospitality, and understanding.
For it is in giving that we receive, in pardoning that we are pardoned
And in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. Amen.