Anyone Who Is Angry (Matthew 5:20+)
“For I tell you, if your virtue goes no deeper than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven. You have learnt how it was said to our ancestors: You must not kill; and if anyone does kill he must answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court;”
The scribes and Pharisees seem to have confused virtue with religious piety. If righteousness urges a soul towards piety, then that act of piety is a reflection of virtue. But if one does a good thing for a wrong reason -like pride, fear or self gain- then that same act of piety is a reflection of depravity. In both cases, an act of piety has taken place; but in the end, the deed can only be judged by the intentions of the heart from which it came. Fortunately for us, judging those appearances belongs only to God.
This rebuke from Jesus calls us to seriously examine the matters of our heart. Jesus goes on to say, that before we approach his altar, before we offer him our heart, he first wants us to resolve the broken relationships which divide and corrupt the heart we are offering him. Just as we are judged guilty in the court of God if we harbor anger in our hearts, this same Unforgiveness, he then warns, will surely imprison us. It is the inner thoughts of our heart which give birth to our actions –both good and bad. And it is for this reason, that Jesus’ absolute intolerance of Unforgiveness exposes it for the insidious cancer it is.
I know a gentle and kind person who is held in high esteem by his faith community. He was provoked, over a period of time by a mean-spirited neighbor, with many acts of hostility. At some point, my friend gave in to retaliation. It began with small annoying actions. Today, this successful man, loving husband and father, is facing a jail term. His impending imprisonment began when he allowed his heart to become imprisoned by Unforgiveness. He had the good fortune of getting caught, of having his Unforgiveness exposed in a manner, which very publicly, is demanding him to repent. But we, who successfully hide our Unforgiveness, are in a m0st grave danger.
In the eyes of the world, Jesus’ radical call to Mercy, of ‘turning our cheek’ and ‘loving our enemy’ is both foolish and impossible. Yet Jesus double downs with his Word, “And if your right hand should cause you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.” Using the harshest imagery possible, Jesus is pleading with us to consider the eternal consequences for those secret machinations in our heart, for our obstinacy in demanding our justice over God’s Mercy.
It is impossible to love someone who has wronged us -if we cling to Unforgiveness. But Jesus has shown us another way –the Way of Mercy, of Loving Unjustly, as we would have him Unjustly Love us. To demand our justice over God’s Mercy is always a choice made in Darkness, for, “God's righteousness is never served by man's anger;” (James 1:20). Anger begets anger. Love begets love. God’s ways are as high above our ways as the stars above the earth. So too, are the sweet fruits of his Mercy above the bitter fruits of our Unforgiveness.Lord Jesus, your dying prayer was for us to be one -as you and your Father are one. Yet, I wretchedly stand before you, as one quick to judge and slow to show Mercy. Unforgiveness is still seductive to my eyes. I am easily offended -another, need only to think differently than I to earn my disdain. How can I ever be one with you –you who cherish those whom I disdain? Save me Lord! Deliver me from my pride. My heart is disfigured by self righteousness. Heal my soul. Your Mercy is my only Hope. Convert my heart. Open my eyes. Fill me with the Love I do not possess. Whatever the cost Lord, you have my permission to make me so. I would rather lose a hand or an eye, than to lose an eternity in love with you.