Estimated reading time: 6 minute(s)

This morning the boys and I continued our trek through the book of Matthew, with a tiny chunk from chapter five. I was just going to reference it, but I thought perhaps you might like to read the whole bit together for the context of what we saw in it today.

Matthew 5:21-25 (CEV)
You know that our ancestors were told, “Do not murder” and “A murderer must be brought to trial.” But I promise you that if you are angry with someone, you will have to stand trial. If you call someone a fool, you will be taken to court. And if you say that someone is worthless, you will be in danger of the fires of hell.

So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.

Before you are dragged into court, make friends with the person who has accused you of doing wrong. If you don’t, you will be handed over to the judge and then to the officer who will put you in jail.

Did you see it? What stood out to you about those three situations? I asked my boys, “What was the most important thing in all of those stories?”

At first they said excitedly, “Don’t be mad!” I said, “That’s part of it…” hoping they would continue. They did. And actually, not too many thoughts later, they hit on what I was probing for.

“Relationship,” said Ian. (At that point I knew that he has been listening to me before this morning.) 🙂 “That’s right! In each of these stories, the relationship was the most important!”

You and I have read that story, perhaps mainly that verse, many times over. Anger is the same as murder. Don’t call your brother a “fool”… or else! Don’t bring any offerings before you fix your argument with your brother. But in the bigger picture–the context–I saw that a common theme ran through all of the stories.

But before I get to that, did you notice who bears the relational “responsibility” in the second story? In the first story, Jesus says, “Don’t get mad at people.” While being so hard to obey it’s almost absurd, it’s certainly understandable. We all know it’s wrong, or at least no the best to treat someone badly in our anger. But who is the relational instigator in the second story? The one who is angry? No! The one with whom someone is angry!

This was a key piece for me. The first one makes sense because we’re good at trying to clean up our own act. That makes sense. It at least seems doable, whether it actually is, or not. But the second set of circumstances requires that the one who has not necessarily done any wrong be the one to correct the situation.

So if you are about to place your gift on the altar and remember that someone is angry with you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. Make peace with that person, then come back and offer your gift to God.

Doesn’t that sound like we’re putting people before God? And perhaps petty, selfish people as well? (It doesn’t say “admit that you were wrong” or anything like that. It just says go and make peace.) The paramount concern is not the “more spiritual” offering to God, but rather peace between brothers.

I told the boys that this is true for me as well. I love it when I see my kids getting along, having fun together. I love it even more when I see them making peace with each other (especially without my intervention). It brings me great joy to see peace, harmony, and genuine loving friendship between my children. And I’m sure (from this story Jesus told, and others) that the same is true of our Father.

When I noticed this relational priority, I sort of stepped back and looked at all three stories together. Sure enough, the thread through all three was that relationships are paramount. The first story says don’t cloud relationships with angry words. Get over yourself. The second story, as I’ve mentioned, focuses on the “responsibility” of the “innocent” person to initiate and maintain a peaceful relationship.

The third story is perhaps a more practical application of how relational we are, and may have been played out a bit later in the day. (No, I was not taken to court…)

In the third scene, we have Jesus saying that if we were to find ourselves in court, the best course of action is to make friends with our accuser. On the surface, that makes no sense! Especially if we are innocent, but even if we are not. They’re our accuser!!! These are not people we want to reach out to. But the practical side of this is, yes, we do. Jesus implies that if you do, you may avoid the consequences, they may not press charges.

A little relationality goes a long way…

Today I received an order from They have Big Train Chai at the cheapest price around. When I run out, I usually order two packs of three bags of chai. (They only ship them in sets of three.) I get two because that qualifies it for free shipping as well. 🙂

When I very excitedly brought in my package from the super cold porch, I noticed that some powdered chai was pouring out the corners of the box! “Oh no!” I thought perhaps a bag had inadvertently been cut open somehow. I was hopeful that most of them were still intact.

I gingerly cut into the tape at the top of the box, opening it very slowly, checking for any evidence of the cut bag. I brushed off the powder from all of the bags (it had gotten all over everything, even though it was only at most a couple tablespoons of chai) and finally found the culprit. One bag had a very small opening, right near the crease in the bottom. No big deal, but I figured I’d call Amazon and see if they could replace that bag for me.

I got on the phone with a lady who did not speak much English, but seemed very willing to help. I explained my situation calmly, and just asked, “Is there any way you could ship me out one replacement bag? Do you need me to package up and return the defective one?” After a few quick questions – and my friendly answers – she said, “Wait a few moments, and I will process a replacement for you.”

I sat on hold for just a few moments, as she had requested, and sure enough, when she came back on the phone she gave me an order ID for the replacement chai! I was thrilled to be getting a little bit of bonus chai. (I really do love this stuff!)

Not long after hanging up the phone, I decided to check the order number at Amazon and see when it would be coming and exactly what they were shipping. What to my wondering eyes should appear, but THREE BAGS OF CHAI in my “recently placed orders”! Whoo-hooo!

Now, I don’t know that this lady did anything out of the ordinary. It could be standard policy to just ship the full “package” that was defective. (They do ship as individual bags, so certainly they could have shipped just one.) And I do not know for sure her motivations. But I’d like to think this is a living example of what I saw Jesus saying today.

Relationship is paramount. I was not being taken to court, but I was approaching a situation that did not merit an overly generous response. You can say it is good business to make sure the customer is satisfied, but if I had laid into the first person who answered, demanding a replacement (and/or more?) do you think that the customer service rep’s first thought would be to (happily) replace my item? Probably not. Probably there would be some resistance. I have tried the other way – justifiable anger – and I am here to say… it just don’t work.

We are made for relationality. If we live it, if we practice it, life goes better.

1 Thessalonians 5:13b (NIV)
Live in peace with each other.

There may be things that seem more important. (Including looking out for ourselves, or doing stuff for God.) But it would seem from these three stories Jesus told to his disciples that the thing that should top the list is to live in healthy, unbroken relationship with each other. And, be the initiator of that. Not just the recipient.

Relationality starts with me.

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