Jesus said to his disciples, ‘For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.’
There is a saying which I hear used with an alarming regularity: Revenge is sweet. Every time something happens that leads us into using this phrase we are actually saying that we are feeling satisfaction because someone else has been harmed in some way. Usually we say: Revenge is sweet when we see someone who we perceive as having done us some sort of harm getting their ‘comeuppance’! Sadly, the phrase Revenge is sweet is often used by those who would describe themselves as faithful Christians. Perhaps you have said it yourself!
As faithful members of Christ’s Church, we come to God in prayer and worship on a regular basis. If asked we would say that we ‘do our best’ to live ‘good’ lives, lives that we hope will one day make us worthy of our place in God’s nearer presence. But, quite apart from the arrogance of that attitude (remember the Beatitude: Blessed are the meek …), it flies in the face of Jesus’ teaching in today’s reading.
Over many years’ experience of Church life, both pre- and post-ordination, I can confidently say that rarely a week goes past without my encountering Church members who are angry about something or the other, and very often that anger is directed at people rather than events. Despite that anger, these people still go to church every week, and sometimes more often, and offer their prayers and worship. Sometimes they even wrap that anger up in a way that suggests it is an expression of faith, rather than that which will lead to ultimate and eternal condemnation.
Most of us can say that we obey the teaching of the ten commandments. They serve as an adequate set of principles by which we can live out our daily lives. But, when it comes to anger … most of us fall very short. We like to believe that we are always right in the judgements we take, and the actions we perform. When others disagree, or follow a different path, we become frustrated and angry. That anger often finds expression in harsh words and public rebuttal. As the stronger ‘angry person’ emerges, the phrase Revenge is sweet, comes to the fore. Life goes on and resentment festers, sometimes through many generations. This is not the Christian way of life!
Jesus calls us to find the path of reconciliation, even if that means our climbing down from the moral high ground upon which we have established ourselves. Jesus attaches such importance to this that he teaches that we should make it a priority over all else we do, including our prayer and worship. Jesus asks how can we offer true prayer and worship if we are burning with anger inside?
Let us pray that we might find the blessedness of those who are meek and humble. Let us pray that we might set aside our anger and seek forgiveness rather than revenge. Let us pray that we might know the sweet joy of true fellowship rather than the earthly satisfaction of a battle won. Let us pray that we might always remember that revenge and earthly victory are those attributes which distance us from God, even if we would like to think otherwise!