Make friends quickly with your opponent at law while you are with him on the way, so that your opponent may not hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Truly I say to you, you will not come out of there until you have paid up the last cent. - Matthew 5:25–26
The time for reconciliation with others is always now, just as it is with salvation. Tomorrow may be too late. No excuse is valid to allow bitterness, anger, hatred, or any other sin to keep us separated from another person. Jesus illustrates here that we should make good on any debt or settle any grievance before it is too late and we’re imprisoned.
In the Roman Empire, two opponents at law could settle an issue on the way to court, but not after a judge became involved. To avoid judgment and imprisonment, the guilty person had to pay “the last cent,” or everything owed in debt.
Being thrown into prison and not being able to get out until a debt is paid is Jesus’ analogy to the Father’s punishment. We can’t miss the Son’s teaching here: we must make every effort possible, with no delay, to mend any broken relationship with a brother before we can avoid divine chastening and have a right relationship with God.
We know that because of sin, none of us is ever completely at peace or perfectly related to another. And since it’s impossible to have perfectly right attitudes toward others or God, no worship is ever fully acceptable. All of Jesus’ teachings in this passage and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount show us again the utterly perfect standard of God’s righteousness and the absolute impossibility of our meeting that standard on our own.
There’s no denying the pain of strained and severed relationships. But there’s nothing like knowing you’ve done everything you can to make it right. Can you live in the Lord’s peace even if nothing changes?
From Daily Readings from the Life of Christ, Vol. 1, John MacArthur. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Moody Publishers, Chicago, IL 60610, www.moodypublishers.com.