In them we find the causes of division and rebellion, of broken relationships of every kind, and even of such terrifying realities as murder. This kind of anger is forbidden and, if not repented, is ultimately punishable by condemnation to hell.
“But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” Matthew 5:22
This passage is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It deals specifically with the dangerous sin of anger. Jesus is warning us against sinful kinds of anger for they are the source, not of justice in our lives, but rather of great suffering. In them we find the causes of division and rebellion, of broken relationships of every kind, and even of such terrifying realities as murder. This kind of anger is forbidden and, if not repented, is ultimately punishable by condemnation to hell.
In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parson’s Tale in his Canterbury Tales, the deadly sin of anger is described this way: “The wicked will to vengeance…Wicked anger is either sudden or premeditated; the latter is the worse. Malice aforethought chases the Holy Ghost out of the soul. It is the devil’s furnace and heats hatred, manslaughter, treachery, lies, flattery, scorn, discord, menaces, and curses. The remedy for Anger is Patience.” The source of these things can be none other than the Evil One. There is no life in this kind of anger, only destruction and death, both to the other and to one’s own soul.
Jesus describes an ascending order of punishment for various kinds of sinful anger toward one’s “brother” in this passage. How many times is our anger toward our “brother” the result of a misinterpretation of intentions, or because of an assumed insult to one’s own pride? If we let such anger go on without finding ways to reconcile with one another, it can turn into the kind of anger that gives forth to things like hatred, treachery, lies, menaces and curses, or worse. This kind of anger Jesus tells us, can make us liable to judgment, not just in the legal sense, but in the spiritual sense. If one insults one’s “brother,” demeans or impugns his character before others, one makes oneself open to being brought before the “council.” In Jesus’ time that would have been the local Sanhedrin. In our times it could mean being brought before a civil court in a lawsuit. The worst anger, that anger that denies the infinite dignity of the other, that devalues the other’s existence to the point of murder, is not just punishable in the “legal” sense by a jail sentence or the death penalty, but more importantly, it is punishable by the fires of hell.
Anger is real. We all have experienced the power of it. We see its negative effects all around us, in our families, in our neighborhoods, in national and international headlines. We may have allowed our own anger to overwhelm us at times resulting in the painful loss of relationships both in the home and among friends. Getting control over our emotions, especially anger, is one of the most difficult struggles in the course of our maturation as adults and as moral actors. Though it is difficult, as we grow and learn to control such feelings, it is one of the most liberating and empowering elements of our adult lives. As Christians, we depend on God’s grace to help us in this growth into mature self-control. We count on his forgiveness for the times we have failed to control our anger and caused division and harm. It is the Christian ideal to reconcile with our brother when we have harmed him, and to “come to terms quickly with our accuser who justly accuse us of the harms our anger has caused to them, for we know that God knows our guilt even more. We know that it is better to forgive than to take vengeance, and that it is better to be forgiven and to accept the terms of our punishment nobly, than to be “treacherous” or to continue to lie, for God’s punishment will be greater than that or our accuser’s. It is the wisdom of God that we are being challenged with in this passage. It is in bending our wills to this wisdom that we find both our happiness and our salvation.
Lord, give us the wisdom to turn away from sinful angers of every kind. Strengthen our resolve with your grace by giving us the gift of patience. Help us to be patient with ourselves, with our brothers, our neighbors, even with our enemies. In love only can there be any real peace. Increase in us, then, our faith, our hope, and our love, so that we may live our daily lives in honor of your great love for us. We pray these things in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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