Little things can do a lot.
retold by Deborah
Jesus said, “You have been told, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders another shall face judgment.’
“But I’m telling you that if you are angry with another you will face judgment; and if you insult another you will be hauled before the tribunal; and if you are contemptuous and demeaning to another, hell itself yawns before you.
“What God wants is for you to be in right relations with one another. Don’t think that offerings or prayers can change that. Going to church won’t make you a Christian any more than going to McDonalds makes you a hamburger.
“Above all else, be on good terms with one another — then you can commune with the Beloved with a free and open heart.”
In this passage from the Gospel of Matthew, the Lord makes a series of alarming statements which seem to insist that we should stop behaving like human beings. Common, everyday emotions, words spoken in haste and anger, are described as dangerous in the extreme — even life-threatening.
Did Jesus really think that anyone is capable of never being angry or envious or at odds with another person? If that’s the case, then the nearly the entirety of humankind is damned, outright.
But I wonder.
Perhaps it isn’t about anger (or envy or lust or greed) — to which we are all susceptible — but about holding on to the emotion; about becoming entranced by it, enthralled by it, wallowing in it. Perhaps the greatest danger isn’t from what it might cause us to do, but from what it can do to us as it boils away inside our souls.
We’ve all heard someone say: “I’m so angry I could kill that person!” perhaps even said it ourselves on occasion (and most certainly thought it). If pressed, we would claim that it was an exaggeration; no harm was seriously intended. And yet … for that one moment, that if-words-could-become-deeds instant, how gratifying it would be to eliminate the evildoers, and bring peace and prosperity to all the earthbound angels who share our views, our faith, our politics! Where would we stop in our efforts to set things right? Where would we draw the line? When is enough, enough?
Perhaps Jesus is right, perhaps anger is deadly.
But it feels so good.
Anger is seductive: it is an attractive, gratifying emotion — in the beginning. It appeals to our pride: our hatred of the evildoers proves we’re the good guys. It makes us feel important: we shall be the heroes, the saviors! It sharpens our minds, as we become alert to every hint of wickedness in others (which keeps us conveniently blind to our own sins and shortcomings). These in turn inspire more anger and outrage. Anger keeps us awash in a sea of adrenalin: we float along feeling energized, enlightened, and superior.
Then, gradually, perhaps, or suddenly, we begin to notice that something is amiss. The sparkling sea of adrenalin turns a bilious green; we don’t feel so good.
As anger is allowed to dwell within us, as we feed and nurture it, it increases, welling up inside our souls, submerging all other impulses and intentions. It entices us to accept and even approve (almost) anything. Our thoughts turn, not toward what is good and hopeful, but violent images of harm and suffering against “our enemies.” We dream of vengeance and destruction, humiliation and hurt; we hope for persecutions, imprisonment, and death. Our hearts turn to stone, our souls wither and contract, steadily poisoned by anger’s venom. Love and compassion are forgotten, ignored, and scorned as weakness or outright character flaws: anger is all that matters, anger is all in all!
An exaggeration? Sadly, I do not think so. I believe the Lord Christ was unerringly correct in warning us that anger is deadly. This very week I have watched in grief and horror as people have responded with delight at reports that rural poor (understood to be Trump supporters) would lose their livelihoods, read the gleeful malice of others at the evacuation and potential displacement of thousands of residents of Northern California because they are assumed to be “liberals.” The poison spills across the political divide. I am sickened by it; physically ill and spiritually weary — and I know I am not alone in this.
It is not “only” relations between one group and another that is being eroded. People are getting literally sick, actually physically ill, from the venom that is flowing through our society and our souls; aware and wary individuals are withdrawing from communities, avoiding contact with others, pulling away from relationships. We are being deprived of the grace and goodness of the very people whose gentleness and compassion are needed so desperately.
Our infatuation with anger is poisoning ourselves and our world. It is destroying the charity and generosity that all Christians — indeed, all people — are called to show to one another. And it is causing us to betray the Lord.
The Lord warned his followers that there is never a point at which “a little bit of harm” is acceptable. The distance from name-calling to demeaning to discounting to dehumanizing to destroying is a short and slippery one. Human beings are incredibly, endlessly, adept at rationalizing our misconduct: in our conviction that we are doing what is right, we will often justify terrible wrongs.
Jesus said that his followers would be known “by your love for one another.” He didn’t make any exceptions, didn’t limit its compass or extent. Love without conditions. We know the Way; it is up to us to follow it.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Consider the extent of anger in your everyday life:
How does anger make you feel? (Take note of its influence on your body, your mind, your spirit, your hopes, your imagination.)
How much anger do you experience each day?
Where does it come from and how do you respond?
How do you banish anger?