Anger and Forgiveness

Matthew 5:20-26

Anger, positioned within the commandment, "Thou shall not kill", seems on the surface to us to be no more than a small footnote.  So when we hear Jesus say, "Whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment", that comes across to us as pretty darn harsh. 

 

In the Gospel reading today, Jesus amplifies the root cause of the Fifth Commandment- that is, anger and an unforgiving attitude.  And anger and an unforgiving attitude has as its root, pride.  Keeping our pride in check is no small burden. Borrowing from a sports expression- you can't stop pride, you can only try to contain it. 

 

There’s a story that’s been told of a young man named Bruce Goodrich, who was being initiated into the cadet corps at Texas A & M University. One night, as a part of his initiation ritual, Bruce was forced to run until he dropped. Sadly, Bruce never got up. He died that night. He had not even had the opportunity to take his first class at the college.

 

A short time after the tragedy, Bruce's father wrote this letter to the administration, faculty, student body, and the corps of cadets. He said, "I would like to take this opportunity to express the appreciation of my family for the great outpouring of concern and sympathy from Texas A & M University and the college community over the loss of our son Bruce.  We were deeply touched by the tribute paid to him in the battalion. We were particularly pleased to note that his Christian witness did not go unnoticed during his brief time on campus."

 

Mr. Goodrich went on: "I hope it will be some comfort to know that we harbor no ill will in the matter. We know our God makes no mistakes. Bruce had an appointment with his Lord and is now secure in his celestial home. When someone asks the question, 'Why did this something like this happen?' perhaps one answer will be, 'So that many will consider where they will spend eternity.'" What a humble response!

 

Rising above anger and maintaining a forgiving attitude is a lifetime journey because sinful pride is such a formidable foe.  Forgiving is even harder when we've felt like we have been robbed of something or someone unjustly. It’s tougher yet to forgive when the offender has never apologized.  Consciously or not, the offender may not have apologized because the person they offended wasn't worth the time or there was no fear of repercussion.  When offended like that, we may say-"Why grant this person forgiveness when they were callous enough not to ask for it?"              

 

Small offenses, when we step on each other's toes, can be forgiven quickly, but big ones require a healing process.  But until we make the decision to forgive, that healing process can't even begin to take place. 

How can we "Forgive as quickly and completely as the Lord forgives us" as we are called to do?  Paul answers in Colossians when he says, "Put on then heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (in some translations "clothe yourself" with)."  It goes on, "Bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do.  And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection." 

Why should we maintain an attitude of forgiveness?   Here's three good reasons: 1) because, as we just heard, God's Word tells us to, 2) because we also will no doubt need others' forgiveness (forgive us our trespasses as we for give those who trespass against us, right?), and 3) because none of us were built to carry the stress that goes with resentment.

To practice this kind of forgiveness, we must focus on each other's worth, not each other’s weaknesses.  We need realize that our natural inclination is to judge others based on their behaviors, while judging ourselves based on our intentions.  Rarely are others' intentions as sinister as we assume them to be. Even that person that we perceived as stepping all over us callously - may have hurt us unintentionally.

Jesus is very clear about asking us to reconcile with one another.  Our God is a God of peace, and wants us to bring that peace to others.  So, let us ask God today to help us let go of any pent up hurt and resentment, and ask his Holy Spirit to guide us as we work to rebuild broken relationships and cleanse ourselves of those impediments that stand in the way of healing.  And with the liberation that brings us, we can become made worthy of being united to God in the kingdom of heaven!

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