All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation [2 Corinthians 5:18-19].
Our eternal home is in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:1). How can we possibly live for an eternity with people we’re in enmity with? However, love demands discipline; we are not naturally inclined to love others. We must start to cultivate these eternal relationships now, to bring a little piece of heaven on earth – we must always be kingdom-minded.
The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’ [Matthew 25;40]. When we love other people, we are loving God. Fellowship with God is our main priority, yes, but fellowship with others is also important. Fellowship cannot happen without perfect trust and unconditional love and forgiveness. Jesus tells us that God is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins when we confess.
Matthew 18 tells the parable of the king who forgave his servant of a great debt that he would never be able to pay back, although the servant thought he could pay the king back. Later, the servant is unable to forgive another servant of a small debt, causing the king to throw this wicked servant in jail for not having mercy on his fellow servant, the one the king had on him. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive our brother from your heart [Matthew 18:35]. The only way we can be forgiven of our sin is because God chooses to have mercy on us and chooses to forgive us – we will never be able to work off our sin and pay Him, because the wages of sin is death, and death is a price that He didn’t want us to pay.
We become the wicked servant when we can’t forgive others for something so insignificant that they did to us, especially in comparison to all we’ve done to God. We forgive not just seven times, but seventy-seven times (Matthew 18:22). This does not mean literally seventy-seven times; how absurd would it be to say to someone, “Sorry, I just can’t forgive you this time, since it’s the seventy-eighth time already.” One, it’s not healthy to keep count, and two, Jesus means that we keep forgiving them each time. Reconciliation is a constant byproduct of relationships; for a relationship to continue, we never give up on reconciling, and we never give up on someone, because God never gave up on us.
This sculpture by Josefina de Vasconcellos is called “Reconciliation.” She was inspired after World War II, when she read a story about a woman travelling across Europe to find her husband. This is such a beautiful picture of reconciliation – both of them are on their knees, in humility, as if admitting their own faults to each other. If there was a hundred miles between us and God, God has already traveled ninety-nine miles to reach us; all we have to do is travel that last mile to meet Him. What would it look like for each of us to reunite with and reconcile with someone? Would we meet them all the way? Halfway? Or not even try?
So how do we know that we need to be reconciled? I had no idea I needed to be reconciled to my brother until I explained to a pastor at a retreat last year about my relationship with him, and I inexplicably just started crying. By the end of it, he told me I needed to forgive him for everything that happened in the past, but also I needed to apologize to him for all the bitterness I was harboring towards him. This made no sense to me, because I thought I was in the clear, because I was the one who was hurt in this situation. He also said our forgiveness of someone cannot depend on them apologizing, or even acknowledging what they did to us. In contrast, before God forgives us, we must confess and repent our sin and trespasses against Him, because only He is perfect and deserving of our confession. However, this is not to say that when you hurt someone, you don’t need to apologize to him; it is difficult to reconcile and move on when there’s still mistrust. Forgiveness, between two humans, is more of an internal acknowledgement of all of our innate sinfulness and inclination to hurt others, and recognizing that we are not above or superior to them because we are the victim.
All of this made sense in the moment, but I quickly decided that everything in our relationship was fine and I didn’t need to sit down and have this talk with him. However, a few weeks later, my mentor reminded me of the ministry of reconciliation, and challenged me to work things out with my brother. I reluctantly agreed, secretly hoping he would forget. But this time, I couldn’t just forget about it. It was God’s second sign to me that something was wrong, and I needed to right it. So at a retreat a few weeks later, I debated with myself again about whether or not I should do it, until God sent me the third and final sign, when I went to a message for one of the other churches at the same retreat center as us, and the pastor there spoke briefly about reconciliation, and specifically mentioned reconciling with family. Who am I to ignore God’s three very clear messages to me? That night, I first forgave him, and awkward as it was, I had a chat with my brother and told him about all the bitterness and anger I had harbored against him for so long. I do think forgiveness is a continual process, at least for me; I find myself having to forgive him over and over again when I find more bitterness, but I know God will continue working in me so that one day, I can fully forgive my brother, and maybe he’ll forgive me too.
To love is to forgive. To love is to sacrifice that part of yourself that was hurt. To love is to lay down your pride for the sake of someone else. To love is to let go. To love is to reconcile. To love is to be like God, who reconciled us to Himself, undeserving as we are.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. [1 Corinthians 13:4-8]
Photo Credit: http://www.nh97.com/wp/the-statue-of-reconciliation/english-city/2010