“But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment”Matthew 5:22
In the reading for Friday the First Week of Lent, Jesus sounds like an Old Testament God. Yet, these stories with threats of a fiery hell are medicine for me. The brutal images break through my defenses, to the heart of my daily struggles. In this “civilized” world I can avoid killing someone physically but can I avoid my anger? I may deny my hostile thoughts, but they sit in me – sometimes becoming volatile, sometimes staying hidden.
I’ve always been fascinated by emotions and have explored them since childhood. Later, I studied “emotional intelligence” and gave workshops in EI to corporate audiences. I believe that God gave us emotions for a reason and that ALL emotions are helpful. (Science agrees.) So why is this reading so hard on us here? We can’t help how we feel.
For me, scripture describes not what our reality SHOULD BE but what our reality IS. God tells us the facts of the matter. The scary outcome (we are thrown into prison) doesn’t come because God is a fierce tyrant. Our punishment comes (as Dante knew) from within. We might hide our aggression from ourselves but God/Objective Psyche sees through us. Even our “slight” aggression (i.e. when we call someone a fool) is known.
This scripture urges me to face even my most subtle violence. If I don’t, daily life can feel like a prison or a fiery Gehenna, as I am separated from God and others. This reading offers guidance but I must do the hard work – admitting my anger and working to reconcile with others. Perhaps that’s why the images are so fierce. Like a bad dream, these metaphors show me the high price of avoiding my inner (“shadow”) work.
I hate to admit it but I was very angry at someone at church this week. An inner complex in me ignited. I felt “justified” in my reaction but still, I was burnt even as I was burning. When grace came (in a perfectly timed message from an online source), I made a move toward reconciliation. I felt a sudden peace. And an inner soothing rain.
I wish there were no conflicts in my daily life. Especially at church! But emotions are messages from realms beyond our conscious selves. I love this gospel reading because it challenges me not to lie to myself. Lying to myself is the worst thing I can do, resulting in the worst punishment. Dostoevsky speaks to this in The Brothers Karamazov.The Brothers Karamazov on Amazon
Jesus said to his disciples:
“I tell you,
unless your righteousness surpasses that
of the scribes and Pharisees,
you will not enter into the Kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors,
You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.
But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother
will be liable to judgment,
and whoever says to his brother, Raqa,
will be answerable to the Sanhedrin,
and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar,
and there recall that your brother
has anything against you,
leave your gift there at the altar,
go first and be reconciled with your brother,
and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court.
Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge,
and the judge will hand you over to the guard,
and you will be thrown into prison.
Amen, I say to you,
you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.”
To practice more symbolic thinking, watch one of Laura’s films here!
Cover Image: “Without Peace” by Aksel Waldemar Johannessen, 1921