“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.” (verses 21-24)
Back in the early days of Genesis, two brothers fell afoul. Cain became so angry with his brother, Abel – and the favour Abel had found with the Lord – that Cain struck him down and killed him. Anger spilled forth into murder.
One is birthed in the interior life and can fester there largely unseen, while the other bursts forth into plain view, occupying territory on the surface of life and making an irretrievable impact. We might think that anger in the heart is not nearly as wicked as murder expressed outwardly, but Jesus says otherwise.
Indeed, anger itself rarely stays contained, but explodes outward in attitude and words. It may never get close to the brink of murder, but it spills forth. Again, we might argue that murder deserves judgement, while anger deserves only a slap on the wrist, but Jesus says both are equally subject to condemnation.
Ouch. It is so easy to nurture a grievance internally, where no one else can see. It’s equally easy for that grievous anger to begin to seep out, expressing itself in looks and snubs and snide remarks and hurtful digs. ‘They deserve it,’ we might think, letting ourselves off the hook. But Jesus says, no – anger in heart and words and attitudes is equally worthy of judgement. Equally it breaks God’s will.
Paul later reminds the Ephesians of the same issue. “In your anger, do not sin,” he says, acknowledging anger as an ongoing reality and implying it doesn’t necessarily lead to sin. But equally, he points to the necessity of cutting it short. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). It’s good, practical, time-limiting instruction.
Jesus goes further and looks at the other side of the equation where our own anger Is not the issue, but rather the offense we have caused someone else.Perhaps it has provoked anger within them, but certainly it has caused hurt. Deal with it, Jesus says. Even if you’re in the midst of worship at the altar – stop right then, and deal with it. Seek reconciliation. It will require humility on our own part, an openness to confess wrongdoing, and a willingness to seek forgiveness. Do it, Jesus says, then come back to worship.
It seems that dealing well with the messiness of human interactions is a crucial part of pleasing the Lord. One might almost say that we worship him best as we keep relationships unencumbered by anger and offense. O Lord, may it be.
Lord, I ask you to shine your light on any lingering anger or bitterness in my own soul. I want to see it, confess it, and release it. So, too, remind me of any offense that needs to be set right so that reconciliation may prevail. By your strength. To your glory. Amen.
Pause: Pray the above prayer. Pause to reflect. Is there any anger? Is there any unreconciled relationship? Ask the Lord’s strength in dealing with it.
Photo: Palma il Giovane, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons