Yesterday’s message ….
- Completely hinged on a twist in Jesus’ speaking in Matthew 5:21-26; when you notice what he does and how he does it, everything in the passage changes.
- Used a prop of the words YOUR ANGER and YOU ANGER placed on either side of me on easels.
- Included several personal refelctions that people thought were unusually transparent.
- Landed at this bottom line: Your anger fades when you face the ones you anger.
READ Matthew 5:21-26 out loud.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Oh. Come. On. If Jesus was here, I’d just shake him. Do you see how quickly this here escalates? After reminding us of the sort of ultimate “thou shalt not” – murder – Jesus then draws some of the most ridiculous parallels. “Angry w/ your brother or sister” — oh, you mean like road rage, you mean like a parking lot battle, you mean slow walkers, you mean everything necessary just to get to church on Sunday morning?! – subject to judgment.
And then “if you say ‘Raca’” … why would I ever say raca? I don’t even know what it means! And then I dug a little & discovered that raca was a way back then of calling someone empty headed. And I realize I’ve called people a LOT worse than that – and so have you. And the punishment? Not just judgment, but answerable to the court. Oh great, an endless loop before Judge Judy. Pleading your case before her and you KNOW she’s never gonna side with the defense. All for telling the truth about someone and naming their empty headedness.
And then … whew! …. Escalation. You call someone a fool and you’re in danger of hell?! All of a sudden Judge Judy is looking better and better! And the escalation here is because in this calling someone a fool, it implies a public shaming of their name and character. When you rob another of their reputation. So: you take someone’s good name, drag it through the mud, and AC/DC’s song is your future, the highway to hell. And all of a sudden any assurance than any of had of eternity in glory just vanished. Thanks Jesus!
It’s funny to me (except the hell part). The passage escalates in the same way that our anger does. Have you ever noticed that? That for a lot of you there is a fairly predictable pattern of (AV) ANNOYANCE / ANGER / RAGE / FURY / EXPLOSION / NUCLEAR MELTDOWN / DEFCON 10. For some of you the inciting incident is something with your kids, others it’s your mate, other’s it’s your parents, still others a co-workers, others a politican, and for a few of you it’s a preacher standing up & talking about anger. Or maybe it’s even like when I was a kid and those few occasions we went out to eat filled me with mortifying anxiety because most of the time my dad would have some kind of scene with the server. Which makes me think of that guy I know – about my age – who confided to me, “My dad always yelled at me and I promised I’d never be like that. And then just today with my kids I realized that I have become my dad.” Some of you have come to that same difficult kind of realization.
Yet in the middle of that escalation, there is the language of 5:22: READ. Angry with brother or sister there speaks not so much of explosive anger as it does of a lifestyle anger. Where your anger is like a prize you won. It’s become your reason for being. It’s anger that you nurse, re-visit, cherish. Like the woman who in her will left her ex-husband “Just enough rope to hang himself.” Some of you know what that kind of anger is like. Perhaps you’ve never had the police come to your house to respond to an incident but the anger is deep, enduring, possessive. It’s YOUR anger and it owns you as much as you own it. You, me, all of us have this to some degree or another and the thought that it will land so many of us in damnation just seems worthy of a collective eye roll.
But by now, the third week of this series, I hope that many of you know the danger of stopping with the eye rolling verse (in this case, THREE OF THEM), of reading these words yanked from their context, and we remember together that CIE. Because look what happens in 5:23-24: READ. Now: as a preacher, if that offering is big enough, I don’t care how many enemies you got! Give it anyway! But do you see what has happened between 5:22 and 5:23? Do you see the twist? In the first collection of verses it’s YOUR ANGER. In the next, it turns to the ones YOU ANGER. (Have two poles on platform as prop.) It moves from you as offendED to you as offendER. And the twist continues in 5:25-26 as the scenario is the neighbor who is taking YOU to court. READ. In this bizarre way, it shifts from all the anger you HAVE to all the anger you CAUSE … and maybe you ought to go settle up with that person or those people so THEY don’t go to hell! What a change in perspective if you’re reading close, paying attention and loving the Scripture! You can’t read one half of this passage without reading the other; it just don’t work. Either side is meaningless without the other.
Because that’s when you realize how astonishing, how adept, how insightful all this is. How instead of an eye roll this one actually deserves a hand raise. Because in all of these You have heard but I say to you sayings Jesus is really levelling the playing field. Demonstrating that the self-righteous among us are not quite as different from the public sinners as we think. And it is as true with anger as it was with enemies and with adultery in your heart.
Here’s the takeaway: Your anger fades when you face the ones you anger. (Poles) Yes! You won’t get so offendED when you come face to face with all those times you been offendER. You’ll be less angry when you take a breath and realize just how many you anger. The key to this eye roller is moving from this pole (YOUR ANGER) to this one (YOU ANGER).
Oh man, have I learned this. Rarely in pleasant ways. When I am around Methodist preacher colleagues I can preen and I can prance. I can be both full of myself and critical of others. Call them “fool” or worse. But then I realized through some sort of humbling experiences and selections that “oh, I’m not that popular. I not only get annoyed, I annoy.” Whew! Made me much more cautious with my words, much more aware of the level playing field, much more in tune with the notion that God can work through more Methodist preachers than the one on Moss & 49. Your anger fades when you face the ones you anger.
Or it’s like this bit of wisdom I heard. If one person calls you a donkey or an ass, pay no attention. If five people do, pay the money and buy a saddle. Your anger fades when you face the ones you anger.
Or, maybe best of all, it’s like a note I received a number of years ago now. It was from a person who had written some things to me that were frankly kind of insulting. Here’s what he said in a note some time later: READ Whoa. Talk about coming face to face with dark causes of YOUR ANGER but understanding afresh who it is that YOU ANGER. Your anger fades when you face the ones you anger.
So: are you so preoccupied with your anger that it has become a prevent defense? It prevents you from seeing who you have angered? Those people in your family, those work people, that neighbor? The turning point in the passage is the turning point in your life! Who do you need to approach so THEY won’t be subject to judgment? Who needs to hear your “I did” “I said” “I stole”? And DON’T say “if I made you angry” … you did and throwing that conditional “if” in there minimizes the offense.
Can I have a word with parents here? Some things you transmit and communicate to the next generation. When our son Riley was in middle school, I started noticing that he kept referring to people as “annoying.” They’re so annoying. He’s so annoying. My teaching was so annoying. On and on. And initially I found myself agreeing with him, and then realized it was a pretty advanced vocabulary for a sixth grader and then had one of those “oh no!” moments: where had he learned not only the WORD annoying but feeling that he had the RIGHT to label other people with it? Huh? Me! Not a legacy of seeing people as Jesus sees them – worthy of infinite love and respect – but as my sort of cynical & preening eye can see them. (My son is doing great now & I reversed course!). Your anger fades when you face the ones you anger.
See, in all this, you really do want to see how liberating it is when you understand the ways that Jesus levels the playing field. That you are villain and you are victim AT THE SAME TIME. Nobody has the corner on either of those markets. The more you are in touch with your villain-y, the less you will see yourself as the victim.
I am asking a lot of you here. I am asking for your searching and fearless moral inventory to take a sober & level headed look at yourself. To be the kind of person who stops confusing explanations for excuses. To recognize that every one of these sayings of Jesus that make us roll our eyes in skepticism is really designed to make us see how level the playing field is. Because the one who SAYS the words is one who ultimately paid the price of self-righteous anger. He was the victim of it and it is the ONE EXCEPTION to the rule of simultaneous villainy. The anger he CAUSED was far greater than any anger he ever HAD. He could point out all the ways the self-righteous and the public sinners are the same because they share one thing in common: they are all died for EQUALLY. He didn’t die for YOU more than the murderer, and he didn’t die for the GOSSIP more than he did for the RACA say-er. All died for equally. And that last verse of the section? Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Guess what? You don’t have to worry about paying the last penny because you never paid the first. Jesus Paid It All.
That, my friends, is no eye roll but a hand raise.