A particularly heartening read for those of us who have discerned this months, if not years, before so many others…
The Text: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
Luther’s Commentary on the Text:
“Many people who are otherwise fine, respectable, learned, and upstanding become filled with secret anger, envy, and hate, and are embittered by it. Still they never become aware of it, and their conscience is satisfied that what they are doing is in pursuit of their office or in obedience to righteousness. Their screen is so lovely and delusive that no one dares to speak of them as anything but pious and upstanding people. The ultimate result is a sin against the Holy Spirit and hardened hearts, which become confirmed and obdurate in this poisonous vice. There are two aspects to this wickedness. In the first place, the heart is full of anger, hate, and envy. But in the second place, it refuses to admit that this is sin and malice, but wants it to be called virtue; this amounts to slapping God across the mouth and calling Him a liar in His words.
“You see, that is why Christ warns everyone so diligently to be on the lookout here and not to be fooled by this hypocrisy and pretense. It is incredible that such a simple bit of instruction can be so far-reaching and strike such great people. By the words ‘if you are offering your gift at the altar’ He makes it clear that He is talking about people who serve God and claim to be His true children, who have a reputation as paragons of virtue. What is wrong with them, then? Nothing at all, except that their heart is crammed full of hate and envy! My friend, what is the use of continual fasting and praying, of giving away everything you have for God’s sake (1 Cor. 13:3), of whipping yourself to death, and of doing twice as many good works as all the Carthusians put together if meanwhile you ignore the commandments which God wants you to obey? Does it not bother your conscience to slander and defame other people and at the same time to offer a great sacrifice? That is the same as bringing on war, murder, and bloodshed—and then paying a thousand guldens to have Masses said for the souls of those who were killed; or stealing a large amount of money—and then giving alms for God’s sake. In this way they deceive God as well as themselves with their pretty pretense, and they imagine that now He has to consider them real living saints.
“Therefore He says now: ‘If you intend to serve God and to offer a sacrifice, but are guilty of harming someone or of being angry with your neighbor, you should know immediately that God wants no part of this sacrifice. Lay it right down, drop everything, and go straight to your brother to be reconciled.’ With the term ‘sacrifice’ He is referring to every possible work done in the service or to the praise of God, since at that time offering a sacrifice was the best possible work. He rejects it completely, demanding that you leave it unless your heart tells you beforehand that you are reconciled with your neighbor and unless you are unaware of any anger against him. ‘If this is so,’ He says, ‘come and offer your sacrifice.’ He appends this to avoid the impression that He wants to reject or despise such a sacrifice, which was not an evil deed, but one that God had ordered and commanded; what was evil and what ruined it was their disregard and contempt for His other and higher commandments. That amounts to abusing sacrifices to harm your neighbor.”
Martin Luther, vol. 21, Luther’s Works, Vol. 21 : The Sermon on the Mount and the Magnificat, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works, 21:80 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999, c1956).