Reconcile – to cause to coexist in harmony; to restore friendship, to settle differences. Reconciling relationships is a rarity these days, I have noted. Maybe I am wrong, but it seems that nowadays when a relationship has conflict there is no desire to try to resolve the conflict, therefore, the relationship breaks. People are content to let it remain broken. Some even appear bent on pulverizing relationship. The most common reason stated for the breakdown of a marital relationship leading to divorce is an umbrella statement, “Irreconcilable Differences.” This can include any number of contributors to the breakdown of a relationship— infidelity, conflict/ arguing, lack of commitment, or financial trouble. Irreconcilable, broken beyond repair, relationship over and out. What a word. No attempt at trying to remain friends or at least congenial…just done. Unless children are involved, and yet I have still witnessed weapons drawn and blood taken despite the children involved. I know people eye-roll at the Hollywood term but the idea of “conscious uncoupling” at least leaves the door open for people who once loved each other enough to marry and create a family to remain in some sort of harmonious relationship.
This does not even begin to touch on the breakdown of friendships. Now, I am not talking about people having a disagreement then making up. I am referring to serious breakdowns in relationship where neither party is willing to settle differences, or one person stubbornly refuses to settle. There are no apologies given. Often the people do not even communicate that there is an issue or conflict and are fine with allowing the relationship to die. Are we allergic to apologizing? Are we immune to another’s apology? When did we become unable to reconcile? Have we always been this way? What is this appetite we have developed for feeding off anger? When did we lose our ability to get over ourselves or over it?
I think we were better at this stuff when we were young. As children, our parents (at least in my day) or even teachers, forced us to apologize, to work it out, especially with our siblings or neighborhood friends. Many times, my mom would send me to, “Go and say you’re sorry, young lady” and I would go. Soon the argument or disagreement was completely forgotten and play happily resumed. Without being told to apologize, however, I would not have done so. I am grateful for her guidance and parented my children to do the same. Yet, even with this example, it is hard, now that I am older, to “go and say I’m sorry” to someone I may have hurt. And I do not think it is because adult issues are necessarily greater or more hurtful. In my experience, life continues to be like high school. Have you found it to be so?
At this point, I want to be clear: abusive relationships are another matter. If one party in a relationship is being abused physically or mentally, if the break is for the safety and health of the person being abused, then the break needs to be complete. On this side of heaven, that is our reality. I am talking about the breakdown of relationship because of ego, hurt feelings, stubbornness, or any behavior along those lines.
The truth is, I do not have any answers to the questions that I have asked, but I do know that reconciliation is important to God. God went to extraordinary lengths to reconcile humanity by putting on flesh and dying on the cross to fix what we broke. So yes, reconciliation is essential to God.
I have been thinking about this since I preached on Peter’s reconciliation to Jesus in the “Feed my sheep” exchange in John’s gospel. It is a model to us on reconciling, especially in the context of community. Another model for reconciliation comes from the Gospel of Matthew. In the 18th chapter, verses 15-20, Jesus teaches the community about the importance of reconciling difference for the sake of the community. He even gives a step-by-step process. First, try to handle it between the two of you. If that doesn’t work, bring in witnesses and try again. If that does not work, then the issue is brought before the church, and if there is still a refusal to listen, then they are to be treated as a pagan or a tax collector. Notice they are not shunned or banned, but rather treated as a lost sheep. You know, the person Jesus will leave the 99 to bring back into the fold?
If this is so important to God, especially God in Christ, then shouldn’t Christians be much better at this reconciliation business then we are? We should be, but I do not think we are. In my opinion (again, forever grateful to Barney Oakes), we just do not take it as seriously as we should. We are not humble. We do not forgive 70 x 7 and remember, forgiveness is only a step toward reconciliation. We do not cut others slack for bad days, or grief, or getting up on wrong sides of the bed. We treat our relationships as if they are expendable. Reconciliation is a deeper commitment to stick it out and make it work. The relationship might need to look different, but there is still a relationship.
In the Old Testament, every 50 years there is a communal reset called the Year of Jubilee. All debts are cancelled. The land is allowed to reset. People who are in slavery are set free and are permitted to return to their homelands. It is a reconciliation of all things woven into this 50-year cycle. When Jesus came into human history, he ushered in a perpetual Year of Jubilee. We need to reclaim that reality. Let us declare this a Year of Jubilee in an intentional “we are going to work on our relationships even if it is difficult, perhaps painful” sort of way. Is there someone who comes to mind as you read these words? Maybe they are the person you can reach out to. This intention is not only God-designed for our good, but it has the potential to bring healing and joy, for ourselves and the folks we are reconciled to. How encouraging would it be to put something entirely positive out into our world for the sake of God who ushered in an eternal Year of Jubilee? I am encouraged just by writing the words. My prayer is that you are encouraged reading them and that you see a ten-fold return on your reconciling efforts. Let’s work it out! Amen?!