Matthew 5: 20-26
1Kngs 18:41-46 / Psa 65
…whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment.
If it is peace that we all seek,
Then first curb temper for our good;
With hearts as tender as words meek,
Understand, than be understood.
“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 your ancestors, `You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever 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 fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends with your opponent right away, while you are on the way with him to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:20-26)
Anger is one of the most difficult emotions that we have to contend with at every turn in our journey through life. As many of us have experienced, there are various degrees of anger that we have to deal with – from being irritated by a pesky child, to a mild frustration with the incompetence of others, up to the extreme hatred against a person who has injured us maliciously. Like other emotions, anger is a very human response to an unjustified, mindless, or uncaring act or situation. Getting angry then is not necessarily wrong, but how we react in proportion to the cause of our anger is. Feeling angry at a driver who mindlessly cuts us is a natural reaction, but bumping his rear end is not. What our Lord Jesus is referring to in today’s Gospel is giving vent to our aggression, after allowing hatred to build up inside our heart. And “flying into a rage” is not the only form of aggression. It can also be verbal, like name-calling, foul language or insults hurled at another person who has offended us.
Anger can be a constructive emotion if our response to it is positive. Our Lord spoke of righteousness as the way to heaven, and He showed us righteous anger when He drove out the money changers and merchants who were desecrating the temple premises with their unholy trade (Lk.19:45-46). Anger can even be for good (Rom. 8:28) when it motivates us to correct an injustice, like reporting an offender to the authorities, or ferreting out the truth. A mother whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver gave vent to her anger by organizing Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), an organization that has saved many lives by raising awareness of the dangerous mixture of alcohol intoxication and driving. Her loss was not in vain.
God our Creator equipped us with various emotions that keep us from harm — such as fear, to ward off danger; loneliness, to seek others’ company; and mercy, to be compassionate and forgiving of others’ mistakes, as God is with ours. Together with love, this emotion should be enough to counter anger. So do not be troubled if you are prone to anger, for even saints were not exempted from this emotion. It took St. Francis de Sales more than twenty years to conquer his temper and turn it into meekness, “an effect of his tremendous will power, constantly strengthened by his lively faith and the fires of divine love which burned within him” (Pope Pius XI’s Encyclical). God allows us to feel anger in order to build our character by employing it for good. Be angry with sin. According to St. Paul: “Hate what is evil, hold on to what is good” (Rom.12:9). Let us imitate St. Francis de Sales in our struggle to control our temper, by using the will power that God has given us, and the power of prayer so that we can grow in the gentleness of Jesus Christ, our Lord, who reminds us, “Blessed are the meek: for they shall possess the land.” (Matt.5:5)
Lord God, You are merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. You do not always chide, nor do You keep Your anger forever.(Psa.103:8) May we always learn from Your Word how to control our anger, and be more forgiving of others, so that we may be worthy of being called Your children. Amen.
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