All Christians are familiar with the “Great Commandment,” Jesus’ command that “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew is one that addresses quite directly and forcefully the relationship between loving God and loving one another.
Jesus refers to the commandment of the “ancestors” that “You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment,” and then tells his disciples that following the old command is not good enough:
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.
Jesus is quite clear: our relationship with God cannot be separated from our relationship with one another. Put simply, if we are on bad terms with each other, we can not approach God with an open and loving heart. There is an act of fraud in offering gifts to God with hearts full of anger for another.
We don’t have the ability to stop anger from arising, any more than we can top ourselves from experiencing any other feeling or emotion. But it is our choice what to do with that anger when it arises. It is our choice to keep that anger alive in our heart or to let it go. But if we do hang onto it, it affects not only our relationship with each other, but our relationship with God.
Note: Chapter 15 of my Growing in Love and Wisdom: Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation offers some meditative practices to help in overcoming anger and developing patience.