In today’s Gospel from St. Matthew, Jesus both ups the ante on the meaning of the commandment against killing and addresses 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. Rather, “whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. He goes on to say
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’ words are quite clear: Our relationship with God cannot be separated from our relationship with one another. True, no one is going to stop us from bringing gifts to God if we are angry with another, but if we are on bad terms with each other, we can not possibly approach God with an open and loving heart. It is something of an act of fraud to offer gifts to God with hearts full of anger toward another.
We don’t have the ability to stop anger from arising, any more than we can stop 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.