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July 15, 2011 / Daniel

Deal with Anger at All Costs

Angry Talk (Comic Style)

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This morning I’ve been wrestling over Jesus’ first antithesis in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-26).   Jesus says,

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’  But I say to you that everyone who 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 the hell of fire.  So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember 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. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison.  Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

This is the first example of the better righteousness that Jesus requires of his disciples.   The problem is not murder.  Murder is only a symptom of the disease, anger.   Notice the escalation in judgment.

  • If you’re angry with your brother, you are liable before the local court.
  • If you insult your brother by saying, “You airhead,” you are liable before the Jewish Supreme Court (i.e. Sanhedrin).
  • If you call your brother a “fool,” you are liable before God’s eschatological court.

Jesus believes that anger is a serious issue.   It is an offense that can send you to hell.  So, it must be dealt with at all costs.   How do you deal with anger?  Pursue reconciliation.  Make friends.   Jesus gives the illustration of a man who is in the midst of offering a sacrifice to God and then remembers that he is angry with his brother.  So Jesus commands this man to drop everything and go make amends before offering the sacrifice.

Of course, for the average Galilean in Jesus’ audience, this was completely impossible.  A trip to Jerusalem was a journey requiring several days.  So several trips back and forth from Jerusalem to Galilee was unfeasible.  So, Jesus’ exaggeration makes a bigger point.   Reconciliation takes precedence over sacrifice.   This touches base with the whole Hosea 6:6 trajectory.  “For I desire steadfast love (hesad) and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. ”   Twice Jesus quotes this text in the gospel of Matthew (9:12; 12:7).     Love, exemplified by forgiveness and mercy, is the fulfillment of the Law.


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