Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee;
Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift.
Wherefore, I say unto you, that ye ought to forgive one another; for he that forgiveth not his brother his trespasses standeth condemned before the Lord; for there remaineth in him the greater sin.
First be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift
I have been speaking about the need to forgive those that have wronged us, but I also wanted to make a point about our need to seek forgiveness as well. I find very interesting the order that is established in this particular verse. First be reconciled, then offer thy gift. If I try my utmost to serve God, but yet remain guilty of having wronged a brother, then all my efforts are in vain. My offerings are hypocritical. I am like Cain who made sacrifice to God while seething with hatred against his brother.
And that word “reconcile” is pretty meaningful, too. Jesus did not teach us to “apologize” to our brother. He did not say to “express regret” to our brother. If he had said those things, we could say a few words of remorse and if they were not accepted we would still be off the hook.
But instead he said “reconcile,” and that means to return to a peaceful and friendly state. So if my initial apology lands on deaf ears my obligation is not absolved. An apology only requires words, whereas reconciliation might mean a long period of owning one’s mistake, sharing a burden, and making restitution.
For he that forgiveth not his brother, there remaineth in him the greater sin
Of course there must come a point where one is released from this obligation. When a brother continually refuses to accept the reconciliation that is offered, the offender should not remain condemned. In these cases God will have to judge between them and absolve the offender when He feels their penance is sufficient. When exactly He will do that is between the individual and Him.