For a number of decades in my life I havn’t had trouble reading the Scripture. But last year was awful beyond imagination personally. Anger almost destroyed my faith. A season of intense anger is not something I have wrestled with in the past. Until last year. This year I’m trying to recover. And it makes me read Scripture differently. Feeling more sinful maybe?
So when I get to my next Psalm to memorize in Psalm 15, I can hardly do it. In fact, I haven’t. Memorization stopped for a while. And now working through the Sermon on the Mount, the Scriptures hit me again. I can hardly read them. Because I know them well and the truth speaks to the ugly places of my heart.
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment” (v. 21)
We’re all good there. I think mutually across the board we can agree that murder is wrong and should be judged. But this next one…
“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment” (v. 22).
Anger towards a brother is subject to judgment? The next statement isn’t defining this verse. It’s just reiterating it.
“Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin.
Let’s stop a minute. Perhaps there is a cultural element that we miss? It seems that to call someone “Raca” was such a big deal that you had to go face the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. It was no small matter.
For us we dismiss the power of our words when we say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words may never hurt me.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. Words are the most hurtful things in the world. The movie quote from Arrival sums it up:
“Language is the foundation of civilization.
It is the glue that holds a people together.
It is the first weapon drawn in a conflict.”
What if in our nation we had to go face a court of law for calling someone a name that is offensive?
“But anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell” (v. 22).
How many pejorative words do we use? “Idiot.” “Jerk.” Or worse. Those words used to not come to my mind very often. Until last year. Sadly they have been more frequent and I’m trying to evict them.
Anger spoken of here is subject to judgment. So is letting the words of contempt fly from your mouth. But what about Jesus?
Wasn’t he angry?
- When Jesus saw people were buying and selling in a place of worship, he overturned the tables of the money changers and the tables of those selling doves. He also let them know exactly why (Mt 21:12-13)
- After he healed someone and the people were offended because he healed on the Sabbath, he “looked around at them in anger and deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts” (Mk 2:1-3
Didn’t Jesus have a few choice words for other people?
- “You hypocrites!” (Mt 23)
- “Blind guides” (Mt 23:16)
- “Blind Pharisees” (Mt 23:26)
- “You are like whitewashed tombs” (Mt 23:27)
- “You snakes! You brood of vipers!” (Mt 23:33)
I can just see a little self-righteous Rhonda saying, “No Jesus, don’t talk like this or get angry. It’s not pleasing to God.”
And Jesus replying, “I am God!”
But seriously, how does this Scripture that to be angry and to call someone ‘Raca’ or ‘You fool’ endangers someone’s soul and yet Jesus appears to have had strong words himself?
Not all anger is sin. Jesus was angry. God gets angry. There are times and reasons to get angry.
Not all angry words are wrong. Sometimes spelling out the truth even if it is laced with anger isn’t always inappropriate. Matthew 23 does just this. Yes, while most of the angry words spelled out the wrong behavior, some didn’t. Has someone ever called you a snake?
Some would like to point out that it’s the words “brothers,” angry with “brothers” and so that means our Christian brothers and sisters. But the Jews saw every other Jew as a “brother.” And don’t think Jesus didn’t have some strong words for the disciples. He very much did. He’s not the milquetoast Messiah that we would like to create.
This Scripture is in a sermon that is carried along in a river of shock texts. This is one of them. I’m not going to pretend I understand it all. But what I do understand is this:
Anger is dangerous. And last year testified to me that it is one of the most spiritually precarious things I’ve ever encountered.
“Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb 12:15)
It’s something I witnessed as true.