By Rev. Canon David B. Tabo-oy
But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell. “So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice. Matthew 5:22-23
I am writing this piece on the last day of the Regional Trainers Training of Vacation Church School teachers in Luzon sponsored by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) here at St. Michael Retreat House in Antipolo. I am one of the facilitators because of my being one of the curriculum writers for this year’s book edition. During one of the sharing of experiences among the teachers one sharing struck me because it connects with one of the topic of our gospel lesson this Sunday.
A story was told of a teacher who caught a paper plane that accidentally fell on his lap. It had a note in it that reads, “Pedro, ang yabang mo! Guto mo suntukan tayo? You are really a FOOL! I hate you to the moon and back!… Signed, Juan” Mr Batungbakal the teacher after reading the note aloud grabbed his worn out Bible and turned quickly to Matthew, chapter 5, and read verse 22: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; 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.” Then he launched into a fervent sermon that would have made even the vilest sinner repent. Most teacher participants didn’t agree of how the mischievous student was handled but the point here is about how we should handle our anger according to the Scriptures.
Jesus warns us against anger, and reminds us to find a better way to resolve our conflicts. It is impossible to avoid confrontations and conflict, but we should never let anger poison our relationships or lead to damage that is impossible to undo. It reminds me of a traditional Irish poem:
There once were two cats of Kilkenny,
Each thought there was one cat too many;
So they fought and they fit,
And they scratched and they bit,
Till, excepting their nails,
And the tips of their tails,
Instead of two cats there weren’t any.
When anger takes over, irrational actions can lead to self-destruction and harm to others. While the cats of Kilkenny might not be unable to control their animal nature, Jesus reminds us we certainly can.
Many people today struggle with forgiveness, and yet we cannot become the people Jesus intends us to become until we are able to forgive the wrongs of others and seek reconciliation.
The goal, then, is for us to love other people in the same way that God loves us. Leo Buscalgia writes of observing two children having an argument. The children were quarreling over some insignificant things. “You’re stupid!” one said to the other. “Well, so are you!” the other replied. “Not as stupid as you!” the first one said. “Oh, yeah?” the other one said. “That’s what you think.”
When Buscalgia passed by the playground not more than ten minutes later, these two children were playing together again, having forgotten the whole thing. “No brooding, no wounded egos, no blame, no dredging up the past, no recriminations,” Buscalgia writes. There it was, a brief and honest exchange of angry feelings, an even briefer cooling off period, and all was forgiven. “Children are certainly much more forgiving than adults,” Buscalgia concludes. “Somewhere in the process of growing up we seem to have become experts at holding grudges, cradling fragile egos and unforgiving natures.”
Our gospel readings for the past two Sundays including this one is part of what biblical scholars call Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, given in chapters five through seven of Matthew’s Gospel, could be called “Lifestyle in the Kingdom of God.” Here we have the party platform of the Kingdom. It contains exalted expectations, the most radical ethical standards ever articulated. Notice that in verse 21 Jesus said, “You have heard it said of old…but I say unto you.” That one who spoke of old was Moses. Jesus was placing himself on the same level as Moses or higher.
Let us pray.
O God, the strength of all who put their trust in you:
Mercifully accept our prayers; and because in our weakness we can do nothing good without you, give us the help of your grace, that in keeping your commandments we may please
you both in will and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen. , (Book of Common Prayer)