We all get angry. When I do it feels like it enters into me from outside - invading my soul - seeking an escape route from every pore and especially my mouth. I wish I could catch myself escalating to that uncontrolled eruption, just so I could try to get myself to look at what is going on from the outside because I am transformed from being me to being someone else that I do not like.
And afterwards, I'm left feeling dazed, exhausted and ashamed - shocked at the way I have reacted. And we all do it from time to time. I am left needing to make up - with myself, the whoever I’ve got angry with, with the world at large and with God. I need to get myself back into kilter. To restore, to renew.
Anger changes us. We become different people. It dehumanises us from a world of liberal, ethical well-thoughtout reasoned choices, to the boiling hot treacle of gut-wrenching emotion - sticky, dangerous, fight or flight stuff.
When we react from that place something dies. I don’t necessarily mean what some call righteous anger - borne out of a passion for what is just - I mean where we exercise power and control often accompanied by gun shot words. In those instances an instinct to survive kills (even for only a few moments) our civility and humanity. Murder in the kitchen, in the bedroom, the car.
This morning we hear Jesus, speak some hard words to us. Getting angry is akin to murder; ‘sticks and stones my break my bones’ but insulting will result in the judgement of God; thinking ‘I’d like a bit of that’ is akin to adultery… and so on. And His suggested preventative measure - to pluck out eyes and to chop off limbs. Really? I mean REALLY??
In these shocking words, Jesus is not speaking about keeping or breaking the letter of the law, but He is reminding us about the centrality and importance of our relationships. But in so doing He also addressing our inward disposition over our outward actions with an ideal standard of the Kingdom of God that no-one meets.
Jesus wants us to be people of integrity, people who are faithful to our promises, people who have no need to swear that they are telling the truth because we are truth-tellers. We should be people who honour our commitments in marriage and who respect the commitments of others. The women in our midst are not people to be used and abandoned at will, but fellow disciples. They are among the ones who are now blessed by God’s reign. For the church to claim Jesus’ message of God’s kingdom come, it must strive to be the kind of place that reflects God’s reign in all places and in all relationships at every level.
Jesus reminds us that God isn’t simply a spiritual guide or the director of divine karma. Rather, our God cares about all our relationships -- cares deeply and passionately - that is, about how we treat each other because God loves each and all of us so much.
But we reduce our shared humanity when we label others as somehow ‘less than human’ because they are black or white or straight or gay or fat or ugly and in so doing we reduce our capacity to build relationships of love.
Before you condemn me as peddling some liberal agenda about all relationships being of equal value to God, I believe that they are because we are all made in the image of God - but to take it a bit further, in the this chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus casts and recasts what relationships in the kingdom should look like in the most surprising ways: where the meek inherit everything, where the poor receive the riches of the Kingdom, where those who demand of us should not be kept account of but when asked we should give and give and give again, and where our enemies and persecutors are loved and prayed for. It’s a radical kingdom - not just full of people ‘like us.’
But in acknowledging the centrality of our relationships to God (chopping limbs and plucking eyes just magnifies that sense), I don’t hear Jesus doing away with the received Law either, rather He fulfils and broadens it:
• It’s not enough just to refrain from murder. We should also treat each other with respect and that means not speaking hateful words.
• It is not enough to avoid physically committing adultery. We should also not objectify other people by seeing them as a means to satisfy our physical desires by lusting after them.
• It is not enough to follow the letter of the law regarding divorce. We should not treat people as disposable and should make sure that the most vulnerable -- in this culture that often meant women and children -- are provided for.
• It is not enough to keep ourselves from swearing falsely or lying to others. We should speak and act truthfully in all of our dealings so that we don’t need to make oaths at all.
Jesus invites us this morning to look at all human relationships in a new way. For behind the prohibition lies a vision of a restored and renewed humanity in the coming kingdom.
Call to mind one of the relationships in your life that is most important to you. One that is healthy and whole and good and sustains them regularly. Think about what makes that a good relationship, about why it’s so important. Give God thanks for that person and the relationship they share.
2. Call to mind another relationship that is important to you but that has suffered some damage. You don’t need to figure out who was to blame for the hurt, but rather hold that person and relationship in prayer. To offer that broken relationship to God as an offering and as an arena of God’s help and healing. Think about what action you can take to move that relationship to greater health. Pray that God would continue to use both God’s law and God’s gospel to heal and restore our relationships.