Jesus and Torah: Anger

Jesus and Torah: Anger

Jesus and Torah: Anger.

“You have heard that it was said to those in ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool!’ you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” (read Matthew 5:21-26).

Jesus’ first clarification of the Law comes from the Ten Commandments. It seems straightforward… You shall not murder (Ex. 20:13; Deut. 5:17). Of course, Jesus. No one disagrees with that. That’s kind of obvious. But then Jesus begins digging deeper into what He feels is the original intent of the ancient command. It’s really interesting that in Judaism, the citation of a text in Scripture implies the whole context, the larger passage. For example, when Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me!” on the Cross (Matt. 27:46), He was actually implying that people remember the entirety of Psalm 22 in reference to Himself. Remember the victorious conclusion of Psalm 22, Jesus is implying: “You who fear the Lord, praise Him. All you seed of Jacob, glorify Him; Fear Him, all you seed of Israel. For He has not despised or scorned the beggar’s supplication, nor has He turned away His face from me; and when I cried out to Him, He heard me.” (Ps. 22:24-25). That gives a much fuller picture of the situation, doesn’t it? In the same way, when Jesus cited one of the Ten Commandments here, He wanted His disciples to think about this law as an illustration of how to interpret the rest of the commands. Jesus is giving the disciples a hint on how to dig deeper into the Ten Commandments, finding the original intention of the commands, the intended meanings behind the mere letter of the law.

Jesus is saying that the original intent behind the murder command is not the literal taking of a life, but the hateful attitude of anger that can lead to murder. By addressing a root of murder, Jesus is saying that internal attitudes matter. Attitudes so often determine actions, and the emotion of anger is a particularly dangerous emotion. Jesus is telling us that He will hold us accountable for our attitudes if they lead to sin.

The Hebrew root word for anger is ‘burn,” which makes sense We are very familiar with all the burning words that are associated with anger… hot-tempered; fiery personality; flaring up; being steamed; heated comments; an enflamed conversation; being hot under the collar; boiling with anger. The fact is that when we brood over our anger, nursing it for all it’s worth, we are actually adding fuel to the fires of anger. When we do that it’s easy for the fire to rage out control and lead to the ultimate sin one person can do to another. There is usually a progression in the journey from anger to murder, and the Lord wants to stop that progression in its tracks. Unforgiveness; resentment; stubbornness; pride; harsh judgment; loss of self-control; hostility; contempt; hatred; actual violence. By the time we have reached hatred, murder in the heart easily leads to actual murder in a weak moment. Scripture is clear about the warning about hatred, that it’s a death sentence: “Anyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that the murderer has no eternal life abiding within him.” (1 John 3:15).

Anger is a dangerous emotion, but it’s not necessarily sinful. “When angry, do not sin. Don’t use your anger as fuel for revenge. And don’t stay angry. Don’t go to bed angry. Don’t let the sun go down before you have dealt with the cause of your anger; otherwise you leave room for the Evil One. Don’t give the devil that kind of foothold in your life.’ (Eph. 4:26). 

There is such a thing as righteous anger, perhaps in reference to injustice or evil treatment of others. But that anger only comes with purity of heart. For the most part, we can’t trust ourselves to get angry in a righteous way. God is pure, and He exhibits wrath in response to wickedness. Jesus is pure, and He fashioned a whip and drove the moneychangers out of the Temple in a fury. For the rest of us, we tend to be a bundle of mixed motives used ana bused by our emotions of the moment. We might think we are righteously indignant and displaying a righteous anger, but unless we are as pure as Jesus and the Father, we generally don’t trust our anger to work the righteousness of God.

During that era in Judaism, name-calling and insulting could have been a legal offense. In the examples Jesus gave, they could be taken very seriously and perhaps brought to court for some sort of punishment. The Aramaic word “raca” was used for fool, and it could mean good-for-nothing, lunatic, imbecile, empty-headed, worthless fool. A name like that could be considered a curse upon that person, and even could imply that person is considered demon possessed. The word raca was not just a slight little insult, and in Jesus’ eye it was a grievous sin.

If there’s one thing that is music to God’s ears; if there’s one thing that brings joy to the heart of Christ; if there’s one thing the Holy Spirit wants us to do… It’s reconciliation. Peace between people. Shalom in a flourishing relationship. The replacement of anger and contempt with forgiveness and love brings healing to troubled relationships. According to this word of Christ, reconciliation is even more urgent than worship. In the early church, there was always time in the liturgy before the Eucharist for the Kiss of Peace, the time for people to talk things out, to reconcile, to make peace. The kiss of peace on each cheek was a traditional greeting in the Middle East. The Christian Church continued that tradition, and it continues to this day in  the Eastern Orthodox Church. When someone offers a kiss of peace, that person is saying that she or he has a clear conscience with that other person, that any division has been healed, any wrong has been forgiven, any bitterness is in the past. When Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss of peace, his betrayal was grotesque and doubly hurtful (Luke 22:48). The kiss of peace in the Orthodox liturgy is done just before the Eucharist, for Jesus clearly stated that peace with others takes priority over the duties of worship (Matt. 5:23-24). Jesus expanded on this idea in Mark 11:25,  “Whenever you stand praying, if you have anything against anyone, forgive him, that your father in heaven may also forgive you.” So there is no excuse. It doesn’t matter if you remember that someone has something against you (Matt. 5:23), or if you remember you have something against someone else (Mark 11:25), reconciliation is a crucial responsibility, peacemaking is a must for disciples of Jesus. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.” (Matt. 5:9).