Sometimes we struggle as humans to do the necessary things; those things which may open us up to the pain of rejection. It is in some ways easier to come up with reasons as to why we shouldn’t pursue a particular course of action. When we do this we frequently project, or make assumptions, about others: ‘there is no way that they will accept the hand of friendship, or the offer of an apology.’ Of course when we do this we let ourselves off the hook, but we also make a theological error. We fail to take St Paul’s words that ‘from now on we regard no one from a human point of view, sufficiently seriously.
Reconciliation is one of those necessary but difficult challenges. It is in many ways far easier to keep those we disagree with, or those we perceive to have caused us pain at a distance, reflecting on their weakness of character. But, for a faith based on the notion of incarnation – God becoming flesh in order to share our lives with us – distance is an anathema. This is St. Paul’s point: ‘God reconciled us to himself through Christ.’ St. Paul then goes onto explain that if this is true the consequence for Christians must be that we who are asked to live Christ like lives have been given the ‘ministry of reconciliation.’
Reconciliation is a very necessary ministry and yet it is the hardest of all ministries. The older son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son can’t, for instance, meet its challenge. He remains stuck and paralysed at the level of duty. He is imprisoned by a view of the world that suggests that intimacy and fellowship is a reward and not a grace. He can’t quite get his head fully round the virtue of forgiveness. Because he can’t do these things he is the one to suffer; resentment is to be his lot. Its interesting, isn’t it, when we first think of the notion of reconciliation we begin by thinking of others but actually one of the main points is that reconciliation is good for us and our sense of well-being.
So what does it mean to be an agent of reconciliation? I suspect it starts with the notion of truth; straightforward acknowledgement of the pain that has been caused. It then moves onto the possibility of forgiveness, restoration and inclusion. This is, of course, dramatically presented by the way that the Father embraces the Prodigal Son. Reconciliation demands a real generosity of spirit and a willingness to rise above past harms whether real or perceived. In rising above past harms, through the acts of forgiving, restoring and including we arrive at the teleos or end-point of reconciliation: reconciliation is finally a supreme act of creativity. Reconciliation opens up new possibilities; new ways of being and relating.
Think for a moment about the amazing work of Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in South Africa. They always told the truth about the horrors of apartheid South Africa but they refused to be held captive by a toxic past.
We must allow ourselves, through the injunctions of Scripture and the lived examples of people such as Mandela and Tutu, to be inspired by our mandate to be ‘ambassadors for Christ’ in the ‘ministry of reconciliation,’ because when we do so what we broker is the very real possibility of a ‘new creation,’ and a better future.
Let us this year rise up to the hard but necessary challenge of not ‘counting their trespasses against them’ but instead becoming enthusiasts for the ‘ministry of reconciliation,’ Amen.