Repair first

Christ gave us the ministry of reconciliation. The Bible tells us so. The word “reconciliation” is found only four times in the New Testament. Frankly, this fact surprised me. I often name the truth that we are united in Christ, noting further that such union is God’s doing, not ours. Ours is to make manifest, with the help of the Spirit, the truth of that bond. But the word “reconciliation” is found a meager four times: twice in Romans and twice in 2 Corinthians. Further, only one of those instances has humans as actors rather than recipients. “Reconciled” appears six times, these instances emphasizing yet again God’s doing. Reconciliation is about divine agency, not human activity.

My trusty Greek-English lexicon defines katallage (reconciliation) as the “reestablishment of an interrupted or broken relationship.” A digital resource I like to use adds that reconciliation is an “exchange — especially of money.” Hence, our understanding of redeemed, the price paid for us by Jesus in order that we might be reconciled to God. Again, God is the protagonist of this salvation story. My lexicon goes on to say that reconciliation, according to Paul, “is brought about by God alone.” If this is so (and I believe it to be so), what then is this ministry of reconciliation we have received?

If reconciliation is God’s work, what is ours? Surely gratitude and praise and worship of the God who makes a way to reestablish relationship with us. But what does this grace make possible not only between God and us, but between one another?

These wonders took me to the Sermon on the Mount, particularly Matthew 5:23-24. Jesus says: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Here the word is a little different, it is diallasso: “to be reconciled” or “to be restored to normal relations or harmony with someone.” This is a hapax legomenon, a word found only here in the entirety of the New Testament. This word is made up of two words put together: “because” and “to change.” The implication is that in order for us to be reconciled to someone we harmed, real change must take place — perhaps even a material exchange is required to set things right.

Reconciliation between human beings begins with repair. The unity won for us in Christ Jesus remains, our reconciliation to God is not our doing. However, Jesus’ command to be reconciled to one another requires tangible, material action on the part of those who have injured their siblings. This should come as no surprise to us. Consider our most intimate relationships, those with our families and friends, when harm happens, a breach of trust, an injury inflicted, repair is inextricable from reconciliation. An honest attempt at making amends must be undertaken and is ongoing.

Christians’ work at reparations, at repair, at making things right with those we have hurt, is embarked upon with the certainty that we have been justified by Christ and that does get undone by our wrongdoing, sin or finitude. Hence, we need not succumb to cynicism, despair or resignation. We tackle the hard work of repairing the breach and restoring our city streets with sure and certain knowledge that we are reconciled to God through Christ, and therefore we need not fear the vulnerability of honest confession, the change required of real repentance and the material exchange needed to be truly reconciled to one another. Jennifer Harvey, in her book, “Dear White Christians: For Those Still Longing for Racial Reconciliation,” argues that the paradigm of reconciliation has failed and that a paradigm of reparations is needed if we are to heal “deep racial wounds.” She writes: “Living into a reparations paradigm is difficult. It requires dwelling in painful truths. But it is honest and truthful in ways that, I am convinced, are potentially liberating and transformative for all of us.” We can enter this difficult, holy work of repair with confidence in the One through whom we have been reconciled to God.

Grace and peace,