In last Sunday’s Family Guy, Quagmire breaks the law and faces the possibility of twenty years in jail. Quagmire blames his mother (played by Allison Janney) for his sexual deviancy, for she herself was promiscuous when Quagmire was growing up. But Quagmire’s mother says that she has changed, for she has become a born-again Christian. Quagmire believes that his mother’s religious conversion is something she uses to avoid taking responsibility for her actions.
More than one person believes this about Christian conversion. I sometimes read a blog by a man who used to be a pastor and became an atheist, and he one time talked about somebody he knew. This person hurt him but later claimed that his sins were covered by the blood of Christ. This atheist blogger believes that the person is trying to avoid taking responsibility for his actions.
In watching that Family Guy episode, I gained an appreciation for Matthew 5:23-24:
“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.”
I can’t say that I like this passage, for I fear that it is telling me to do something that I do not want to do. If somebody has something against me, I’m supposed to go to that person and seek reconciliation? What’s it mean for somebody to have something against me? That the person does not like me, and so I should go out of my way to appease that person? Did Jesus consistently go out of his way to appease those who disliked him, and whom he offended? Well, he did eat with the Pharisees, so he arguably pursued a relationship with them, in some sense. But I don’t think that he bent over backwards to get his enemies to like him, or that he apologized for offending people. Does he call me to do something that he did not do himself?
In addition, while there are cases in which people may dislike me because of something offensive that I said, that’s not always the reason. They may dislike me because they don’t think I’m smart enough or cool enough or open-minded enough, or whatever. Why should I go out of my way to appease them? The world doesn’t revolve around them.
Then there’s the factor of whether I even want certain people in my life. If a person is an obnoxious jerk to me and to people I know, should I keep him in my life, even if he may apologize continually? Well, Jesus did say that we are supposed to forgive our brother seventy-times-seven. I have trouble enduring that kind of continual drama, though!
I one time heard a pastor say that Matthew 5:23-24 means that, before we engage in any kind of worship, we have to reconcile with those who have something against us. A number of charismatic Vineyard churches tell people not to partake of communion if they have not reconciled with people in their lives. This is difficult for me to accept. My hope is that the worship of God and communion can make me a loving person, the type who would want to reconcile. To make reconciliation a prerequisite for worship is to cut me off from a source of life and strength, which can encourage me to have more love in my heart. And yet, as good as my rationale here may sound to me, do I use that as an excuse not to reconcile with people?
Essentially, I stumble over any command in Scripture that requires interpersonal interaction on my part, especially when it comes to really thorny social situations that involve confrontation, honestly telling people how they have wronged me, or trying to appease people and get them to like me. Giving things to people in need or asking them how they are doing is easier for me, though.
I can complain about Jesus’ commands until the cows come home, and I probably will, until I draw my last breath. But, getting back to last Sunday’s Family Guy episode, the episode gave me an appreciation of Matthew 5:23-24 because it helped me to understand a bit what Jesus may be getting at: that we are not just supposed to think about our vertical relationship with God, but also our horizontal relationship with other people. In the case of Quagmire’s mother, it was not enough for her simply to receive forgiveness from God and to be cool with that. She also needed to apologize to her son for her role in him turning out as he did. Receiving God’s forgiveness, in short, should not be about avoiding responsibility, but it should include taking responsibility.