“Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5:26
Was our Lord here giving legal advice regarding a criminal or civil case and how to avoid prosecution? Certainly not. He was presenting us with an image of Himself as the just Judge. And He was exhorting us to show mercy to anyone and everyone who could be seen as our “opponent.”
Forgiveness of another is essential. It can never be withheld. But forgiveness is actually not even enough. The ultimate goal must be reconciliation, which goes much further. In this Gospel above, Jesus exhorts us to “settle” with our opponents, therein implying reconciliation. The RSV version of the Bible says it this way, “Make friends quickly with your accuser…” Working to foster a “friendship” with one who has accused you, especially if it is a false accusation, goes far beyond simply forgiving them.
To reconcile with another and to reestablish a true friendship means that you not only forgive but also do all you can to ensure that you reestablish a relationship of love with that person. It means that you both put your grievance behind you and start anew. Of course, that takes both people to cooperate in love; but, for your part, it means that you work hard to establish this reconciliation.
Think about someone who has hurt you, and, as a result, your relationship with them has been damaged. Have you prayerfully forgiven that person before God? Have you prayed for that person and asked God to forgive them? If so, then you are now ready for the next step of reaching out to them in love to mend your relationship. This takes great humility, especially if the other person was the cause of the hurt and especially if they have not spoken words of sorrow to you, asking for your forgiveness. Don’t wait for them to do so. Look for ways to show that person that you love them and want to heal the hurt. Don’t hold their sin before them or hold on to a grudge. Seek only love and mercy.
Jesus concludes this exhortation with strong words. Essentially, if you fail to do all you can to reconcile and reestablish your relationship, you will be held accountable for it. Though this may seem unfair at first, it is clearly not, because this is the depth of mercy that our Lord offers us every day. We will never be adequately sorry for our sin, but God forgives and reconciles with us anyway. What a grace! But if we fail to offer this same mercy to others, we essentially limit God’s ability to offer this mercy to us, and we will be required to pay back “the last penny” of our own debt to God.
Reflect, today, upon the person who comes to mind with whom you need to fully reconcile and rekindle a relationship of love. Pray for this grace, commit yourself to it and look for opportunities to do so. Do it without reserve and you will never regret your decision.
My most merciful Lord, I thank You for forgiving me and for loving me with such perfection and totality. Thank You for reconciling with me despite my imperfect contrition. Give me a heart, dear Lord, that always seeks to love the sinner in my life. Help me to offer mercy to the fullest extent in imitation of Your divine mercy. Jesus, I trust in You.