Sermon for Sunday February 12th, 2017, Septuagesima Sunday
The Lessons: Ps. 119:1-8; Deut. 30:15-20; 1 Cor. 3:1-9; Matthew 5:21-37
Text: Matthew 5:21-26
Topic: Avoid unrighteous anger, seek reconciliation and make peace with those you have offended.
During World War II, Zinaida Bragantsova of the Ukraine was sitting by the window sewing. Suddenly she heard a whistling noise. Then she was struck by a blast of wind. When she came to, her sewing machine was gone, and there was a hole in the floor.
She told people there was a bomb in the floor, but she couldn’t get any officials to check out the situation. So she moved her bed over the hole and lived with it for the next forty-three years.
Then, one day, a phone cable was being laid in the area and demolition experts were called in to probe for buried explosives. “Where is your bomb, Grandma?” asked the smiling army lieutenant of Bragantsova. “No doubt, under your bed?”
“Under my bed,” Bragantsova responded dryly.
Sure enough they found a five-hundred pound bomb. After evacuating two thousand people from the surrounding buildings, the bomb squad detonated the bomb. Bragantsova moved to a new apartment.
Many people live as if they have a bomb under their bed. They cover up a terrible secret, a great hurt, a seething anger while everyone goes about their business. But no one is truly safe until the bomb is uncovered and removed.
– Lee Eclov, “Danger of Bitterness,” PreachingToday.com
People will say that anger is a part of human life, and indeed, many people do become angry at some stage, some more quickly than others. There is righteous anger, such as Moses showed when, seeing the people of Israel had made a golden calf and were worshipping it instead of the Lord, he broke the tablets on which God had written the Ten Commandments (Ex. 32:19). But, on the whole, man’s anger is unrighteous anger. Therefore St. James wrote, “…let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God” (James 1:19-20, KJV).
JESUS’ VIEW OF SINFUL ANGER
The opening words of our Gospel lesson today mark the beginning of the six antitheses, or units of discourse in which Jesus does not contradict certain laws of the Old Testament, but shows how even attitudes and habits conducive to certain sins are themselves sinful and unacceptable to God.
In the first of these antitheses, the Lord Jesus quotes the commandment against murder (Matt. 5:21; Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17), adding that whoever kills a person shall be in danger of the judgment. The judgment for murder was death by stoning (Ex. 21:12) unless it was inadvertent or unintentional manslaughter, in which case the man could flee to an appointed city of refuge (Deut. 4:42). But here the Lord sets the standard higher. Even the person who is angry with his fellow human being without cause shall be in danger of the judgment. What did our Lord mean by this? Because anger can lead to violence and murder, even anger without reason is hurtful to another person and God holds the angry person responsible, and he will have to give account to God and to the offended person for his anger. The Lord adds to this that whoever (presumably in anger) calls a person “Raca” – a term for an immoral, loose-living person at the time – shall be in danger of the council, which could be the Sanhedrin. In the present age, if we libelously slander others, we may have to account for it in a court of law. But if we go so far as to call a person a “fool,” or “godless,” as the term “fool” meant in Biblical usage, we are in danger of hell fire, the ultimate judgment. All this goes to show that the names we call people in the heat of our anger will land us in trouble of one sort or another, and it is important that we don’t write a person off as valueless or impious altogether, since God values and loves every human being and has created each for a special purpose.
The second part of the passage on anger has to do with seeking reconciliation and peace with the one whom one has offended. We see too few attempts made at reconciliation in this day and age. Jews from both Judaea and Galilee had to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and bring gifts to God. The fact that someone offering a gift to God and remembering his fellow human being holds some offence against him, must leave the gift at the altar and go and be reconciled to the one he has offended (Matt. 5:23-24), speaks volumes. He might have to travel back to Galilee, for example, and then return to the Temple to offer his sacrifice.
How is this to be interpreted in today’ terms? A Christian’s effort to make peace with a family member, friend, neighbor or colleague is more important even than his church attendance or his gifts to God of time, money and service. Not only must we not be angry with others without just cause, but we must make every effort to be reconciled with those whom we have hurt in any way, so that anger and resentment do not simmer in their hearts. We see, then, that the Lord’s teaching is aimed at the creation of a peaceful, non-violent community, and that is what the Church, and even society at large, should be.
But our Lord takes one step further even than the above steps. If one has an adversary, one must come to terms with him as soon as possible (“whiles thou art in the way with him” – Matt. 5:25), because, if one does not, and the matter comes to court, one will not be able to come out of prison, until one has paid the last penny. This means that if one is the transgressor, try to come to a settlement out of court. The terms will be better.
All of our Lord’s teaching here urges us to refrain from anger without cause, and to seek reconciliation with those whom we have offended, and to do so as soon as possible, that we may live at peace with all, as far as it is possible for us, and that we may live at peace with God.
Do you live with anger in your life? Is it not better to get rid of it, to deal with the cause, to be reconciled with those you have offended, to forgive those who have offended you, and to live at peace with God and with others?