21 “You have heard that it was said to those who lived long ago, Don’t commit murder,[a] and all who commit murder will be in danger of judgment. 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. If they say to their brother or sister, ‘You idiot,’ they will be in danger of being condemned by the governing council. And if they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell. 23 Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift. 25 Be sure to make friends quickly with your opponents while you are with them on the way to court. Otherwise, they will haul you before the judge, the judge will turn you over to the officer of the court, and you will be thrown into prison. 26 I say to you in all seriousness that you won’t get out of there until you’ve paid the very last penny.
Living in the Pinelands, we’re always concerned about the danger of fire. Even when the fire seems to be out, embers
smolder underneath the ashes. It only takes new fuel or a windy day to add more oxygen to reignite the embers into all consuming flames. Smoldering is the longest lived stage of a fire and it can take weeks to extinguish, which makes it so dangerous. Like fire, our anger can explode into rage that harms someone, or it can smolder, doing a slow burn, waiting for opportunities to consume us.
In this discourse, from the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns us about the destructive power of anger. The Greek word used by Jesus for anger is ogre, which means a slow burning anger, one that we nurture in our hearts. We hold onto that anger and use it to deliberately hurt people. Jesus talks about the way our anger escalates, from using name calling to demean others- “you idiot.” Like the things we say when someone cuts us off while we’re driving. Then our anger escalates by publicly defaming others with contempt-“you fool.” You only have to scroll through social media to see this kind of anger. Finally, our anger can consume us and we can explode into murder. Even thinking these thoughts, our intent, is the same as if we were to commit these sins.
The slow burn of anger will get us into trouble if we don’t learn to recognize it and ask God to help us to change and to forgive us. Jesus warns us that we need to offer forgiveness to those we’ve hurt and to “make it right.” This is so important that Jesus says we says we need to do this even before we come before God to worship, to “leave your gift at the altar and go…then come back and offer your gift” to God.
Jesus compares this to someone who owed a great debt, and was being taken away to court. Now is the time for us to make restitution to them, to forgive our opponents, because once we are in front of the judge, it will be too late. We will be thrown in prison till our debt is paid.
by Jeneene Reduker
For Pondering & Prayer
The cure for the slow burn is forgiveness and loving others as God loves us. Jesus calls us to give up anger and replace it with love. Is there someone or something that you are nurturing a slow burn over? Ask God to remove our anger, to forgive us and to replace it with the love of God.
Prayer: Holy and Loving God, we struggle with anger and forgiveness towards others. Change our hearts and minds so that we can love others as you have loved us. Amen.