“But I say to you, anyone who is angry with a brother will be liable to judgment.” Matthew 5:22a
Jesus now turns in the sermon to some of the Law he was just defending, and he starts by addressing murder. He establishes with the crowd that they all knew God had declared murder wrong—and then he goes a step further. By using, “But I say to you,” he is declaring himself an authority as strong as the Old Testament. And he doesn’t contradict the law, but rather deepens it.
Sometimes this is referred to as getting to the sin behind the sin: in this case, anger is behind murder. Jesus isn’t referring to accidental death, like if a motorist strikes a pedestrian they never saw. No, this death is desired, acted out, intentional, and it started in the murderer’s heart.
Not all anger is wrong; we see God get angry over injustice, for example. But much of the anger we experience comes not from righteousness, but from selfishness. Someone snubs us socially; we keep underperforming in class while our annoying classmate scores well; our roommate gets asked out on dates all the time, and we never do. The sources of anger in our life are endless, potentially. Sometimes we feel anger when something is legitimately frustrating, but we escalate it by declaring another person judged, inferior, an idiot—we escalate it when we feel hatred and disgust. We declare in our hearts, and maybe over whispers in gossip.
Jesus died to create peace, between us and God, and among each other. Notice that even anger directed toward us is enough for us to “leave our gift” and seek reconciliation. Anger and bitterness among us is such a disruption that Jesus even commands us to put off religious devotional acts until we’ve tried to reconcile!
Are there any relationships right now that need reconciliation? Perhaps you have felt anger for a long time, or known that someone in your life has a grudge against you. What is keeping you from moving forward? Take some time now to pray through each of these relationships, asking God for understanding and help in moving forward—and for courage to pursue peace, in the power of the Spirit.