Do Not Be Angry with Your Neighbor
“Remember the commandments, and do not be angry with your neighbor; remember the covenant of the Most High, and overlook ignorance” (Sirach 28:7). Here, once again, we see the consistent wisdom of God being expressed. This wisdom appears throughout the scriptures, and is expressed in living form in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. This wisdom is rooted in the practical. It has everything to do with how we are to think of, and behave toward others on a daily basis. It is the way of righteousness. How do we come to know it? How do we live it?
We come to know the way of righteousness first by knowing, meditating on, and practicing the Ten Commandments, the Law of God. In them we see the structure of the Two Great Commandments, for the first four of the commandments are related to the love of God and the last six have to do with love of neighbor. This is the way of righteousness that we all must reflect on and pray over throughout our whole lives. In developing the habit of doing this on a regular basis, we are able to see where we are doing well and where we need to improve. There is only one good reason to do this. In learning and practicing the Law of God, we enter the way of righteousness and we find true happiness, even, paradoxically, in the midst of suffering.
The second clause of today’s verse has to do with anger toward our neighbor. One of our greatest struggles is to learn how control the negative feelings that we often have toward our neighbors. And we are to remember that our “neighbor” is “Everyman,” not just those who live next door. This is often where our effort to become righteous finds its greatest difficulties. Disproportionate anger is a deadly sin. This kind of anger is ubiquitous in our times. Just look at the kinds of hateful and angry comments that are hurled back and forth on social media, or in the public square between people who do not even know each other personally. The great irony of anger is that in the immediate moment, it is so satisfying. It makes us feel “better than” the other. But in reality it is more destructive to our own soul than it is to the target of our anger. We are to learn how to forgive. This is the wisdom of God. “Forgive us our trespasses AS we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The last clause of today’s verse is very important. We are to “overlook ignorance.” The key word here is “ignorance.” In modern parlance, we use that word as a descriptive insult. But it is not the original meaning of the word. It’s origin is in the Greek. Its root is the verb “gnosis” meaning “to know.” The prefix, “ig” means to “lack” something. So, to be ignorant simply means to lack knowledge. All of us are ignorant. There is much that we do not know and as a result, much of what we say or do is flawed, and often wrong, even injurious. That might not have been our intent, but harm is still the result. Ignorance is “curable.” If our neighbor has sinned against us in some small or great way, it is not our disproportionate anger that will convert them, but our love, our patience, our kindness that will bring them to the light. Our forgiveness, then, seals the bond of love. As Christians, we know that it is love that saves everything. This is the wisdom of God.
Lord, help us in our daily efforts to know your commandments more intimately and purposefully. Give us the strength to commit ourselves to a growing love of all humankind, our neighbors. Relieve us of the destructive tendencies of hate and disproportionate anger and increase in us the will to forgive all others, as you have forgiven us. We pray in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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