Dealing with Anger

Matthew 5:20-26

In today's Gospel, Jesus tells us about anger. He makes us aware of the increasing dangers of anger by referring to its increasingly disastrous effects on an angry person's soul, and the damage it does to others.

 

At the lowest level, the reading tells us that anger in the heart results in "judgment," which, in that day, meant a judgment by the Jewish local court where the lightest punishments were meted out.

 

Then, he shows how anger in the heart becomes anger that kills. Using abusive language toward others destroys others’ self-esteem by belittling their true worth. “Raqa” was the example given, a demeaning word that means nitwit or imbecile. The abusive person, in that case, would then face a trial before the Sanhredin, the highest judicial body.

 

Finally, Jesus warns us that holding others in contempt is even worse. Worse than calling someone an "imbecile", saying to someone “you fool” was like being called "worthless". Getting so angry at someone that you deemed them valueless made you liable to fiery "Gehenna". Gehenna was a local valley area used by a pagan cult to burn children to death as a sacrifice for their demonic gods – not a good place to be.  In essence, it was their closest representation of “hell”.

 

The idea that this kind of anger is equal to murder is easier to understand if we read First John, which says that God is love. And when we have anger, we have no love; therefore we don't have God, and without God, we cannot attain eternal life.

 

Name-calling is not the only way we belittle others and kill their self-esteem. Any damage inflicted on others affects how they live and think, react to situations and deal with other people, often for years.  Here’s a little story about anger that helps drive home this point:

 

There was a little boy with a bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, to hammer a nail in the back fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into that fence. Over a period of days, that number gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than keep driving those nails into the fence. Finally, the day came when the boy didn’t lose his temper at all – not once all day. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

 

The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father then took his son by the hand and led him over to the fence. He said, “You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one, and that one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won’t matter how many times you say ‘I’m sorry’, the wound will still be there.”

 

We’ve all wounded other people and we’ve all been wounded. We all need to take full advantage of God's healing for the wounds we still carry. Our own healing makes it easier to stop inflicting the same harm on those around us. It is a choice. Holiness means owning up to our choices and seeing the best in others, ensuring that we avoid assigning sinister motivations to others when they are not warranted.

 

Anger as an emotion is not evil. Feelings are neither right nor wrong, they're merely a temporary reflection of what's going on inside of us at the moment. Our angry feelings may be rooted in our own frustrations and/or emptiness. Anger of any kind, becomes a sin if and when it festers in us long enough to the point where we damage others.

 

Jesus got angry, about sin. It's okay to feel justifiable anger. It's what we do with that feeling that matters. The remedy for the times we feel angry is as Jesus says, “Go and do whatever is necessary to be reconciled with whomever has made you angry.”

 

If our anger is caused by someone or something that we’ve seen on TV or social media, there are mature and sensible ways of dealing with it. Those who were at Mass yesterday heard Fr Mike Zavage suggest at least cutting back on “upsetting news consumption” for Lent. We always have the option to change the station or not visit particular sites.

 

Having a peaceful heart begins with our making the choice to be at peace, and be an example of peace to others.

 

And so we pray today, Lord Jesus, help us have a peaceful heart. When we feel the emotion of anger come upon us, help us to pause, and resolve in our minds where that anger is coming from.  Allow us to have a broader vision that includes not only our own perspective, but the perspective of those who may have caused the anger.  Help heal our wounds that have stubbornly stayed with us through the years, and lastly, help us be the agents of healing when others are most in need.  

 

Amen

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