(Jesus said:) For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.
May I ask you a question? When is the last time you got angry? In 2008? No? More recently? I’m not surprised, because we tend to be a very angry people. And before you say you don’t get angry, ask yourself if you have ever described yourself as being sad, bitter, unforgiving, abusive, rude, disagreeable, sarcastic, nitpicking, stubborn, withdrawn. These can all be expressions of anger, and going by what Jesus says in today’s passage, can jeopardize our salvation.
So, how do we deal with anger, Christian-style? Here are four steps. One, admit you are angry. Anger is a legitimate, God-given emotion. It moves us to take action. Even Jesus got angry. Remember that outburst in the temple? (See John 2:13-22). But Scripture advises: “In your anger do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). Consider what happened to George Floyd. Americans have every right to be angry at his death, but they are letting their anger lead them to do some really terrible things.
Two, be prepared to forgive. When we forgive we let go of the anger, and that is difficult to do, because anger feels good. It fuels the desire to avenge the hurt, to make the person pay. Some people wait for a long time to exact their vendetta, inspired no doubt by The Godfather who said, “Revenge is a dish best tasted cold.” But this is not the way of the follower of Christ, who is advised to “be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). James is very stern in what HE says: “Judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful” (James 2:13) echoing what Jesus says in today’s reading.
Three, ask God for help. When Alexander Pope said, “To err is human, to forgive is divine,” he was spot on. “All people commit sins and make mistakes,” he continued. “God forgives them, and people are acting in a godlike (divine) way when they forgive.” But we need divine help if we are to act in a divine way, so God’s help is needed. His grace will help us to forgive our offender, even to the point where we no longer remember what the person has done to offend us. I speak from experience.
Four, think good thoughts. Even after doing all these things, the thoughts will return. Divert them immediately. Paul writes: “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Ephesians 4:8). Think of what Stephen did when people were stoning him to death. He prayed for them, saying, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60).
Now, that’s noble, don’t you think? Let’s be noble.