God is all about Loving Your Neighbor

Epiphany 6 Monday

Matthew 5:23-24

“When you sacrifice your gift on the altar and remember there that your brother has something against you, leave your gift before the altar and go first to him and reconcile with your brother; then come and sacrifice your gift.”

Christ now says: If you want to serve and offer a sacrifice to God but have offended someone or entertained anger against your neighbor, you should know, in short, that God does not want your sacrifice. Therefore, put it down, put everything on hold, and go first and reconcile with your brother. By “sacrifice” he means all the works you could do to serve or praise God–at the time, there was no better work than sacrificing–but he completely rejects it and commands to put it
down–unless your heart first tells you that you are reconciled with your neighbor and you know of no anger in you. When this has taken place, “Come,” says he, “and offer your sacrifice.” Christ adds this lest people think that he would reject or despise such sacrifices. For it was not a bad work, but was ordained and commanded by God. What made the sacrifices evil and corrupted them was that the Pharisees rejected and despised the higher commandments. In other words, they misused the sacrifice against the neighbor. A higher form of misuse of sacrifices consists in using them to be saved thereby and to atone for sins and to rely on them and be confident before God, as has been said elsewhere. Otherwise, offering sacrifices is a good work, like all the other good works of the outward service of God–e.g., praying and fasting–that are not to be despised or given up where their interpretation and use is correct, namely, when they are not done to earn heaven thereby and the heart is on good terms with the neighbor, so that both faith and love are exercised properly. But when you pray and fast while you slander your neighbor, gossip about him, and defame him, your mouth may say holy words and may not consume any food, but it makes itself impure with the neighbor, against God’s commandment. This is also why God, in Isaiah 58:3-4, prohibits the kind of fasting whereby they hurt their bodies and made a show of devotion: “When you fast, you do your own will and oppress your debtors. You fast by quarreling and arguing and strike with the wicked fist. Do not fast the way you fast now so that your cries may be heard on high.” God also teaches his people how they should fast properly, Isaiah 58:6-7: “That is the fast I choose: Let go of those bound unjustly; set free those whom you oppress…Share your bread with the hungry; if you see someone naked, clothe him,” etc. There you see that God is all about loving the neighbor.

St. Louis ed., 7:435-438.

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