In our Gospel reading, Jesus says, “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.”
As I was reflecting on this, several things came to mind. One was that it seems we as a society, or even as a world, seem to be more angry than we’ve ever been. Another was that anger can be a tricky thing. There are times when we just get angry. But perhaps how liable we are to judgment depends on what we do with our anger.
Do we let it fester and lead us to resentment and even violence? Calling someone “Raqa,” or “You fool,” can symbolize for us racial, ethnic, or other types of slurs, signifying a demonization or dehumanization of the other person or group of people. Or can it lead to something positive? It seems for some people that outrage has led them to work for justice. Maybe a positive outcome depends on whether our anger comes from not getting what we desire, or from a recognition that something is not just for everyone. But I wonder if even in those situations, getting stuck in anger can be harmful to oneself more than the other person, as it can result in bitterness and an inability to live in a healthy way.
After His admonition against anger, Jesus says, “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.” If we come to Mass, for instance, loaded with resentments, can we truly offer the gift of our presence to God and to each other?
Perhaps the best way to deal with anger is to turn it over to God, and open ourselves to what God wants us to do with our anger: let it go, or let it be channeled into some positive action for the benefit of others. May we not give in to anger, but to God’s love and God’s will.
Fr. Phil Paxton, C.P., is the local superior of the Passionist Community in Birmingham, Alabama.