Thursday, 20 February 2014

Anger: the Bigger Picture

In Matthew 5:21-26 we have some comments from Jesus about anger which challenge our thinking on this matter.  Jesus starts by talking about murder and points that anger is the first step on the way.  He then goes on to condemn anger, but it is important to place this thinking in context.  It is always important to have the bigger picture.  It is remarkably easy to take an isolated Biblical verse and say all sorts of things, even apparently good things, that perhaps ought to be challenged if we were to take into account everything the Bible says on the particular matter.  Equally, and perhaps more often, in the Bible and now, specific situations influence how we respond.  The Bible clearly does not dismiss anger as something that can never have a place in our response to things.  Most obviously, we see Jesus’ anger when he drives the profiteering money changers and sacrifice sellers out of the temple courtyards.  It would be entirely wrong to say that anger is wrong.  But it can be wrong, and especially it can be wrong when it gets out of control. 

The Gospel writers are perfectly content to describe Jesus become angry.  The important point is about what you do with your anger.  Anger that is allowed to turn into hatred very often then becomes abusive. 

There is one other thing I want to highlight here, and that is to say something about reconciliation and to comment on this point about leaving your gift at the altar and going off to work out things with your brother or sister when you are out of sorts with them.  Again surely, strictly speaking, this is over-stating the case.  It’s advice that won’t work, if taken literally.  “It was surely not possible to leave unattended even a cereal offering in the busy altar area, let alone a pair of pigeons or a lively goat!”[1]  But the point is that we should make the effort to sort out those things that need sorting out.  When Jesus says, as he does in the early part of the passage, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers,’ I don’t believe that he means blessed are those who sweep things under the carpet.  Conflict needs to be dealt with, even when that’s difficult.

[1] Douglas Hare – Interpretation commentary on Matthew

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