The Gospel according to Matthew (5:20-26)
Jesus said to his disciples: “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.”
Reflection: It is interesting, in Matthew’s gospel, that following the Beatitudes, and Simile of Salt and Light are a series of teachings covering all manner of life and faith. Just after the first teaching about how Jesus has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law comes a teaching about anger. Jesus uses some pretty harsh language in condemnation of the behaviors identified. It doesn’t seem like the consequences for anything outside of murder are any less severe. Maybe it’s because sin is sin no matter the type or degree. All sin separates us from God and others. Especially those we are closest to.
Our behavior and choices motivated by anger and bitterness can keep us awake at night tossing and turning while the other party may be soundly sleeping. For forgiveness is not for the other person, such as our spouse, but something we need. In our ministries, Paul and I have learned that forgiveness is a two-way action. Saying I am sorry is self-focused, whereas asking Paul for forgiveness is giving him the option and right to forgive me which is other focused. One person must be willing to ask for forgiveness and the other person must be willing to forgive. Sometimes, he isn’t ready to forgive me and I have to be patient and pray, pray, pray.
For me anger is quicksand. I can feel my temperature rising and leading me to a decision I will probably regret. Then, like an explosion, the damage is done and it’s too late. Regret is almost instant, not because I think I’m right or wrong, but because I know I have hurt someone, especially Ana. And like Ana said, forgiveness can only come when we put others ahead of ourselves. Then the process of healing that leads us back to communion with God and others can begin.
Pride may be the deadliest of the seven sins, but anger can wreak havoc in our lives. This is probably why this teaching about anger merits its place in Matthew’s account of the teachings of Jesus. If we want to approach our Father asking for mercy and forgiveness then we must be willing to forgive and seek forgiveness from our brother, sisters and our families. What better place to practice and apply this lesson than with those we are closest to. Like charity, forgiveness begins at home.
Action of the day: Before we go to mass this Sunday let’s all think about someone that needs to hear us ask for or offer forgiveness. Like I (Ana) said, if forgiveness does not come quickly pray for the grace and mercy of God to bring the peace we receive in reconciliation.