Today’s reading is from Matthew 5:20-26. Matthew Chapter 5 contains The Beatitudes and the discourse on divorce, oaths, retaliation, and love of enemies. It’s full of wisdom and amazing insights, including this instruction on anger.
Jesus is instructing his disciples and tells them:
“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
The scribes and Pharisees are renown for being sticklers for detail when it comes to their laws, and Jesus the Christ names one: If you kill someone. And clearly, if you kill someone, you will be liable to judgment. But then Jesus says, your righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees, whose righteousness Jesus has called into question in other readings. Jesus says the letter of the law may be that you are liable for killing someone, but the heart of the law is you are liable for being angry with someone.
I had to look up “Raqa,” which in Aramaic means “imbecile” or “empty-headed.” Another version of this reading merely says, “any man who uses abusive language toward his brother shall be answerable to the Sanhedrin.” But the essence of that portion of the reading says that if you are abusive of another person, you are also liable to judgment.
And then Jesus says the most radical of things, especially in today’s divided, partisan environment. And that is, if you have something against your brother (or sister), settle it with him (or her)! Don’t come to God with your gifts of appeasement, your alms as it were, until you have reconciled with your fellow human. And Jesus gives as an example that of going to court: Settle before you get there lest you end up rotting in jail.
What are we to make of this instruction from Jesus? Let cooler heads prevail. Better not to be angry with one another, but if you lose your temper make up. Forgive and ask forgiveness. If you expect God’s mercy, show it first. Don’t be a name caller, be a respect shower. Remember that Jesus calls on us to love our neighbor as our self as the second most important commandment.