In the second reading from 2 Corinthians 5, there is one word that rises easily as its theme and key concept: and that word is reconciliation – 5 times as a matter of fact.
- We are told that God has reconciled us to himself in Christ
- That God has given the apostles the ministry of reconciliation
- That God reconciled the world to himself in Christ
- Again, repeating that the ministry of reconciliation is entrusted to apostles
- Finally, Paul begs through Jesus Christ that we be reconciled to God.
Just exactly what is going on here? What are we to make of this? Why is this word, reconciliation so important? What might this mean for our spiritual lives? I think that pursuing the meaning of this word reconciliation might be a meditation worth pursuing.
Since the inspired text of this book is Greek, we should make certain of the Greek word that we are talking about here. The Greek word at issue here is katalasso, which means to change, exchange or reconcile. Kata means to draw to an exact point and alasso means “to change,” so if you put those two words together it means to take at least two separate things and bring them to the same exact point together. We have an expression for what this roughly might mean: “to put things on the same page.” In ancient Greece katalasso was originally used for the exchange of coins from one kind to another. So when applied to people, katalasso came to mean the following: when two persons are reconciled (katalasso) they exchange enmity for friendship. What was once apart has been brought together to the same part and harmonized.
With this in mind, let us remind ourselves again what St. Paul repeats not twice, but five times: essentially, that the whole ministry of the apostles is to reconcile (katalasso) God and man, and that the entire point of Jesus Christ’s ministry is to reconcile us and the world to God.
But here is the problem: If it is true that the whole mission of Christ is to bring together the world and God, and the whole mission of the church is to bring together the world and God, then the following is also true: if you think that you and God are just fine with each other and you are already together, then you don’t have much of a need for Jesus or for the church, do you?
Let me put it a little more simply: if you think that you and God are already reconciled, then you won’t think that you need Jesus or the church to do it for you, right? I am reminded of a married couple that I knew not long ago. They had been married a number of years. They only rarely declared open warfare against one another. They mostly lived separate lives in the same house. They rarely held hands, or talked about deep issues, or those other thousand things that close couples often do together. Once I suggested that they go see a counselor to RECONCILE them, and they were offended. Why were they offended? HOW DARE I SUGGEST THAT THEY WERE A TROUBLED COUPLE? They seemed to think that they were doing just fine for the simple reason that they weren’t openly attacking one another. This couple was gravely mistaken. They were really not on the same page. They were really NOT reconciled. But they didn’t even know it. But it wasn’t entirely their fault. Why? Because They didn’t know how close they could be. They had forgotten what friendship and reconciliation even felt like.
And I wonder if this is not a parable for our entire world, our entire church. We might not be openly fighting with God. We might not be openly evil or wicked. But are we really FRIENDS? Have we forgotten what it feels like to really, truly be close to our God? Could we be like that couple?
My suggestion to this couple was essentially that they had drifted so far apart that they were no capable to fix the situation on their own. They had lost their way. How can two people who are lost help each other find the way back home? Maybe they’ll find it by accident, but not likely. What they need is someone who knows the way to show them.
Jesus does not only show us the way, he IS the way. The church exists to reveal the way to entire human race. But the world seems to be full of people who think that they are just find, and that they do not need help with being reconciled back to God.
Being reconciled to God is not a one-time thing, it is a constant thing. Every day I must prostrate myself before the Lord and ask him to cover my sins, speak a good word for me to the Father, please forget my thousands of transgressions. Every day. There are a lot of people who seem to think that they have no sin. Do you love the lord your god with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; do you forgive your enemies? Do you love your neighbor as yourself, and constantly lay your life down for your friends? Do you love everyone as Jesus loved them? Because all of these things are commandments, not suggestions, and I for one fail miserably at them fairly regularly. And so I need Christ and his church to reconcile me to God.
Have you ever read the life of a saint? One thing that strikes me about many saints is how sinful many of them think they are. After all, they are saints, but they will often go on and on about how miserable and wicked they are. I finally figured out the reason for this, and I will explain it in an image.
God is like the sun. After all, one of the most common images for him is light. Well, the closer you draw to the light, the more you can see. I think that these saints are so close to the light that they see every speck of stain and sin on their bodies, and so they think that they are dirty. And then most of the world, who is far from God, is covered in mud and filth but sitting in the dark—and when you are sitting in the dark, I guess you can look at yourself and say, “I AM CLEAN.” It can be hard to draw close to God because we begin to see how stained we are. But he will dress us in white robes if we let him. He will make us new again.
My favorite line in the Parable of the prodigal son is this one: “While he was still a long way off, his father caught sight of him, and was filled with compassion. He ran to his son, embraced him and kissed him.” WHILE HE WAS STILL A LONG WAY OFF. How could the father really know that was his son from a long way off unless the Father was basically sitting on the porch WAITING for his son to come home the entire time? And not only was he waiting, but once the Father saw even a hint of his son he covered miles of distance to run to him and embrace him. Jesus told us this parable to give us a glimpse of the heart of the Father. We have a Father desperately waiting for us to be reconciled to him. Be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ and the sacraments of the church. You may not be enemies with God, but are you really friends?
As the parable illustrates, the Father will wait patiently as long as it takes and spring into action to cover the distance that remains between us – but he needs to see us coming home first.