Rather than continue in a state of anger, Jesus tells his disciples to reconcile with their fellow disciple before going to worship (5: 23-24). “Brother” ought to be understood as referring to all disciples, certainly women are included in the command to reconcile. But did Jesus intend for reconciliation to be restricted to only fellow disciples? Likely not, but if there is some offense between followers of Jesus reconciliation ought to be the highest priority.
That Jesus uses familial language should not be a surprise since he conceived of his followers as a family unit. For example, he considered those who do the will of the Father to be his brothers and sisters (Matthew 12:46-50). Peter says the twelve have left everything to follow Jesus, including “brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands” (Matthew 19:27-30). Jesus’s disciples are a new family so though ought to deal with disruptions as a good family does, by seeking reconciliation.
Jesus says a fellow disciple “has something against you,” implying the disciple has indeed wronged a fellow disciple. Since the one who has done the wrong needs to reach out and begin the process of reconciliation, the person knows they are in the wrong and are causing a disruption within the family.
Reconciliation is to create a sense of harmony between two parties, to “restore normal relations” (BDAG). Matthew uses διαλλάσσομαι, only used here in the New Testament, but the word is related to καταλλάσσω a few more times. The word group is sometimes used in a political context where two parties have become estranged and need a third party to act as a go between and restore the relationship.
Jesus offers a simple process for seeking reconciliation between disciples.
First, reconciliation requires recognition of an offense. In verse 23 the worshiper remembers they have offended or hurt someone. The main reason people do not seek reconciliation is they think they were in the right and they are waiting for the other person to come to them and apologize!
Second, reconciliation should be the first priority. The worshiper sets aside their sacrifice and seeks reconciliation. McKnight points out the need for reconciliation between Jesus’s disciples trumps even offering a sacrifice at the Temple! (Sermon 79). It would be easy to put off an admission of guilt with a hundred “good excuses,” but Jesus says to set everything aside and seek reconciliation.
Third, reconciliation can happen when the offender reaches out to the one offend, “go to the person.” It seems obvious, but someone might admit guilt in their heart and pray for the other person and think they are now reconciled. Jesus says to go the person, face them and admit you are wrong. This is extremely humbling and difficult and it is important this happens face-to-face.
Fourth, reconciliation must come quickly (v. 25). The longer one waits to seek out the person they wronged, the more difficult reconciliation becomes. This is partially because both sides become entrenched in their belief they are in the right!
In Matthew 5:23-26 Jesus is describing personal reconciliation between disciples. If the disciple of Jesus is really dealing with anger in their heart, then they will deal with any anger they have toward another member of Jesus’s family or the anger they are causing among the disciples of Jesus.
Should we draw the implication that larger groups need to find some sort of reconciliation? I can easily think of examples of splits within a church which are in desperate need of reconciliation, often after many years of anger and resentment. This could be applied to denominational splits and the possibility of reconciliation between people of similar faiths.
Going even further, reconciliation may be needed between people who have been the victim of sexual harassment or racial prejudice. How can Jesus’s process for reconciliation be applied to these larger, systemic issues?