17 June 2013

Matthew 5:25-26

“Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (vv. 25-26)


These two verses come from Jesus' Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). Jesus has been talking about how he expected his followers to live. He has promised blessings, with reference to their personal lives, and has commented on their behaviour in their communities and in the world. He has also commented on the historical understanding of their faith, before he speaks about disagreements and rows. He suggested that the traditional understanding was not enough, and that a great deal more is required of those who follow him.

Some people read this as recognising how life is, but others see it as suggesting that we will one day face a final judgement and it would be better to deal with any issues now. Certainly the verses immediately before (verses 21-24) refer very clearly to judgement and punishment.  But they also make it clear that reconciliation with other people is necessary for those who want to be in a relationship with God. Prayer and worship require a reconciled community.

People have also argued whether "come to terms" means real negotiation and reconciliation, or implies simply giving in all the time. It is important to understand that "accuser" in this context usually means the one who has been offended or the injured party in a legal action, so it may well be about the person who has done wrong making the first move. This is most definitely not about people who have been damaged or abused by others being told that they are required to forgive, or take the first step towards any form of reconciliation.

To Ponder

  • In a society where we are encouraged to blame and to sue people, how does this passage make you feel?
  • If you have any difficult disagreements in your life, what do you think God might have to say?
  • You may want to reflect on the importance of standing up for justice whenever there is need for reconciliation.

Bible notes author

Revd Alison Tomlin

Alison Tomlin is a supernumerary Methodist minister, who was president of the Methodist Conference in 2010/2011. She has been involved for the last 25 years in leading retreats and offering prayer, accompanying both groups and individuals.