February 26, 2021, Friday in the First Week of Lent
Scripture: Matthew 5:20-26
“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 judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; 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.”
Meditation: “You have heard . . .”
This is the first of six brief passages in which Jesus “brings to fulfillment” the commandments given to Israel on Mount Sinai. He brings religion to the level of the Beatitudes, which he proclaims earlier in the same Sermon on the Mount. Jesus digs down to the roots of evil actions — in this case, to hostile thoughts and uncontrolled emotions.
Such thoughts and emotions can be dangerous to others as well as to ourselves, because they often lead to action —- anger could lead to a verbal attack or violence. A time-honored saying expresses this: “Sow a thought and reap an act; sow an act and reap a habit; sow a habit and reap a destiny.” Everything starts within.
You know how it is: Anger surges up when I perceive (or think I perceive) injustice. Therefore, not all anger is “wrong.” What is wrong is uncontrolled anger. Saint Paul says, “Be angry but do not sin,” and he adds, “do not let the sun set on your anger” (Eph 4:26). I need to cool off and, if possible, to be reconciled with the other party soon.
How to go about this is up to the Holy Spirit and me. Although Matthew’s Gospel stresses morality it doesn’t give me a blueprint for handling difficult situations. My next move is left up to me in my concrete circumstances, acting under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In our Presbyterian heritage the leading of the Holy Spirit is sought in counsel with others, and it therefore behooves me to seek the assistance of another or others whose spiritual wisdom we value.
Matthew has been called the “Gospel of responsible freedom.” Matthew calls me to the freedom of an adult child of God. The next time I get angry, I hope I’ll ask God’s help at once. (A quick SOS to the Lord could be a good replacement for the old practice of silently counting to ten). I might also look for a harmless way to blow off some steam. After I’ve cooled, I can then analyze the situation afresh: Was there really injustice? If so, what are the options for addressing it? How and when will I try to seek reconciliation with the other person(s) involved?
Lord, when I feel anger welling up, help me to be silent and pray for guidance. Enable me to look at the real or imagined injustice. If real, how — and when — can I address it? Guide me through those difficult moments. Help me to think clearly and channel my emotions appropriately.
“But I say to you . . . ”