Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Barnabas Anglican Church
6th Sunday in Trinity 2012
July 15, 2012
Have you ever been angry without a cause? Have you ever been angry, and then felt justified in your anger? “I felt this because this person did this to me”, you might say?
Of course you have. I know that we all have. While we don’t condone anger, we know that it seems to be part of our human natures.
Our Gospel selection for the day puts anger in a new light. It also teaches us about the power of words and how we use them. This passage also gives the lie to the old childhood axiom: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
We all know how totally untrue this is; in fact, it could be argued that, while physical damage will heal over time, usually, the emotional scarring that words can inflict may be permanent, This is true especially if one is lacking a Christ-like spiritual orientation. If one is able to forgive, one may be able to forget. On the other hand, without forgiveness, there can be little possibility of forgetting.
Our passage from Matthew shows how powerful words can be, both in this world, and even potentially in the next. Christ gives several examples of angry words that have heavy consequences. First, He speaks of those who are angry without a cause. This type of anger merits judgment. This judgment might possibly be before an earthly court, like the Sandhedrin, but probably not. Christ most likely has in mind the heavenly court, which sees all and hears all that men say, even in the most casual of situations. Recall this, from Matt. 12:35-37: “A good man out of the good treasure of the heart bringeth forth good things: and an evil man out of the evil treasure bringeth forth evil things. 36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.” Thus, our speech is powerful, bringing with it a just recompense of reward. It is difficult for us to imagine that what we say is as important as what we do, for just as the Word of God spoken forth on the day of creation brought forth light, so our words, if they be corrupt and fallen, can bring forth very negative consequences. After all, think of all the fistfights, battles, and even wars that have begun because of words.
In this passage, our Lord seats himself to teach the multitudes, in good Rabbinic style, and uses a classical scribal technique to begin his discourse about words. He says, (Matthew 5:21): ”Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: “ He follows this with His own interpretation and emphasis: (Matthew 5:22) 22 But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”[i]
These are strong words, indeed. Christ is not just condemning anger, but he is condemning angry words with intent. Here, we talking about anger expressed in words that if left unchecked, could lead to murder. In other words, people can easily be angry enough to kill. This kindled anger and hatred is akin to murder in Christ’s eyes, for it can very easily lead to it.
Here, one might ask, “Well, wasn’t even Christ angry? Did not even He give vent to anger and frustration through words?” The answer is yes, but with a vast difference. Christ’s anger was righteous, and it was without sin. On one occasion in Mark 3, he looked around on the Pharisees and Scribes with anger “because of the hardness of their hearts”, as He was about to heal the man with the withered hand. Recall that Jesus had just asked them if it was lawful to good on the Sabbath, even if this involved “work.” Recall that the Pharisees regarded Him with stony silence, for to speak at this point would have invalidated their position. Instead, they were silent, and irritatingly so.
Another example was immediately after His resurrection, as He assumed the role of the mysterious stranger who suddenly joined himself to two of the disciples as they walked the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. They were sad and walked heavily. When the “stranger” enquired about this, the two told him about Jesus’ crucifixion and about their crushed hopes that He would deliver Israel. At this point, Christ says to them, Luke 24:25-27:
“Then he said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: 26 Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory? 27 And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself.” Christ actually used the word “fools” here.
The difference here is in this situation, Jesus’ anger was used for instruction. We don’t even believe He was really angry here, but He gently upbraided the disciples for their failure to “connect the dots”, so to speak, concerning all prophecy and Himself. In the case of the Pharisees, Christ was angry because of their sinful obstinancy. They simply would not let themselves see the inherent good in the situation at hand, but instead clung to a ritualistic precept for its own sake. Recall Christ’s comment about man not being made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath being made for man, in Mark 2.
The point is that Christ was never angry with intent to do harm. He did not become angry through hate and wish to destroy. If there was ever a case of righteous or justified anger, only Christ exhibited it. As incredible as it may seem, Christ was angry without sin. How man of us can say that?
As an aside, this priest does ponder the magnificence of Christ’s life in this respect: how could a man, any man, go through this life without sin? We know the theological reasons why Christ could not sin, namely that He was born without the taint of original sin, because He not born of the seed of Adam. Thus, through His immaculate conception, Christ’s seed came from God and not man. Imagine being born without the inclination to sin. Imagine that… This does not mean that Christ was not tempted as we are, for the Word of God tells us that. Yet, He was without sin. It is amazing and it has to be one of the reasons we worship the Christ, perfect man and perfect God.
Christ has a final word about anger, worship, and our acceptance before God. He tells that if we have a quarrel with someone, or we realize that we have a problem with another person, we should not attempt to make a sacrifice or a gift to God unless we are reconciled. The ancient Jew usually offered a lamb, a bullock, or some other animal as a sacrificial offering to God. He also gave money, as we witness from our Lord’s parable of the widow’s mite, as she saw great and powerful men casting in their offerings. These gifts and offerings were prescribed by the Law and were meant to bring favor to the giver. In the New Testament era, we do not have to offer animals anymore. There is no more need to shed animals’ blood, as the One Perfect and Sufficient Sacrifice has already been offered for us.
Yet, even so, we are called to make a sacrifice each time we worship in the context of the Holy Communion. This sacrifice is personal, and it is one that each person must make individually. This is, of course, our “sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving.” This is the outpouring of each individual soul as it rejoices in the presence of God though holy worship. This is the sacrifice for which God most cares, and it is precisely the one that He does not want to be tainted with hatred, or malice, or ill will. God desires our sacrifice to be as pure and holy as our fallen natures will permit. While he knows our natures only too well, as he knows the number of hairs we have on our heads, he wants us to strive towards the purest and finest sacrifice we can give. If we come to church angry, or become angry during the service, all we can give is a tainted sacrifice. Surely, this is not pleasing to God.
It all begins with our orientation in love. Are we striving to love God with all whole heart, mind, soul and strength? Are we striving to love our neighbor as ourselves?
That is a question we can only answer individually, in the recesses of our own souls. May this happen, as we surrender to the Spirit and seek His will and His peace in our lives.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.