Imagine being in the crowd listening to Jesus speak the words of the Gospel. As he starts his speech you hear, “you have heard it said, ‘you shall not kill…’” and you think, “yeah, yeah, yeah, I know.” What comes next is going to startle you. “But I say, whoever is angry with his brother is liable to judgement.” What?
A couple of things…the idea of anger in this situation is the reaction that is rooted in the emotion of anger. Everyone experiences the emotion of anger often for very good reasons, but the part of anger that will be liable to judgement is how we deal with this anger. In other words, it is always the choice in which we respond to the emotion of anger that is judged to be either good or bad. Sometimes, we react to our anger appropriately like when we see someone being bullied and our anger of the injustice of this causes us to respond by protecting or standing up for the person being bullied. That would be judged as a good response. Of course, it would not be a good response if we see someone being bullied and from our anger we respond with excessive violence or bullying of our own.
Just because something is liable to judgment, does not mean it is automatically wrong. It just means that it could be judged as either good or bad. Something like our reaction to our anger may be judged good or bad. Killing, that is the direct attack on human life, is always wrong. Of course we are not talking about appropriate and proportional self defense or accidental death, i.e. manslaughter. Jesus seems to put inappropriate and misplaced anger on par with killing. That is something to think about isn’t it? It may cause us to rethink the way we live out our faith.
I think sometimes we can feel really good about ourselves as we view all of the bad people below as our moral high ground. We may feel that we are successfully standing up for our cause, but Jesus’ words should make us think about how we respond when we are angry about something even morally questionable. It seems as though Jesus is telling us that we may be judged as badly as whoever we are angry at.
I think the main thrust of what Jesus asks us to be and to do, is to be people of peace, to be consistently good even when faced with things that may be evil and cause our anger to emerge. Our emotions are fickle and inconsistent so we need to be careful of what we do with our emotions whatever they are. We should be extra careful when we are angry. Our anger can be all consuming, turning to rage and our reactions disproportionate and unreasonable.
The list is long in the history of how many horrible and sinful things have been done because of anger.
Rev. James Kirby