By Rev. Scott Andrews
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. – Matthew 5:21-26
“The Sermon on the Mount is perhaps the greatest sermons preached by perhaps one of the best preachers around!” A seminary professor once said this – tongue in cheek of course – to a class I was a part of. Of course, it is the great sermon of Jesus. Of course, Jesus is the great preacher of the New Testament. And yet, we all need to spend more time in this section of Matthew’s gospel (Matthew 5:1-7:27). Over the next few months, I’m going to use selections of this sermon for my monthly Vine article.
We have all been in arguments before. Whether they were with family, friends, co-workers, classmates, or neighbors, we have all experienced the pain and emotional turmoil of conflicting with someone else. We may have even experienced a sense of “internal conflict”. No matter which type or with whom we have experienced conflict, these disputes destroy and distract.
As Jesus continues preaching the Sermon on the Mount, he begins a series of comments that begin with the phrase “you have heard that it was said”. There are six times that this phrase is used. Each of them is an entry into a discussion on the commandments. They are not attempting to change the commandments, but to help us find a deeper meaning to each of the commandments.
This particular attempt is to help us move beyond the taking matters into our own hands. We have all, as I state before, had disputes with others that have unnerved us. Some of us may have even felt “our blood boil” in anger toward the person we are in dispute with. Jesus is cautioning us to rethink our anger. He says, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement”. He cautions us even further to not insult each other also. He further explains that we can’t even enter worship if we feel this way. Instead, he tells us to settle things quickly.
There are some who will say that this philosophy is “Pollyannaish”. And that may be true. But what good does anger do us. If anything, anger only robs us of a full connection with God and with one another. “It’s a slow poison we drink hoping the other person dies,” as some have said. My suggestion is to follow the words of Christ. Find settlements to your disputes. Let go of the anger. Live in the fellowship of Christ.