There is some very difficult material in today’s Gospel. ‘If anyone kills he will answer for it before the court. But I say this to you: Anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.’ ‘You must not commit adultery. But I say this to you: if a man looks at a woman lustfully, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ ‘If your right hand causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away; for it will do you less harm to lose one part of you than to have your whole body go to hell.’
All this makes Jesus’ teaching on divorce seem quite mild. There are only twenty verses in this passage; yet, when I picked up a commentary I found thirty-five pages trying to explain what Jesus meant.
I am a little worried at Jesus teaching about anger. That may sound a strange thing for a priest to say. But anger is an emotion and therefore is neither good nor evil. What we should do with an emotion is that it should be recognised and find an appropriate expression. If we are angry with our brother because of something he has done then we should acknowledge our feeling, confront the situation and seek reconciliation.
However, people often think that anger itself is wrong. They then either suppress it or brood over it.
Suppression is unhealthy, it denies the feeling pushing it into the unconscious so as to pretend it is not there. What happens then is that much later it reappears in an inappropriate way.
Brooding is just as unhealthy, when we brood we nurse the anger, we feed it and keep it to ourselves. The whole thing grows out of all proportion and leaves us feeling bitter hatred.
I think that Jesus was talking about these two inappropriate expressions of anger. As we have said, anger is an emotion and as such is neither good nor evil, it is what is done with it that brings it into the moral sphere. After all Jesus himself showed anger when he chased the money changers out of the Temple.
Perhaps what we need to do is to look at the actual words Jesus uses: ‘Anyone who is angry with his brother will answer for it before the court.’ The court meaning, presumably, the court of God.
There we have it. We are answerable for our anger. This does not mean that we are in the wrong every time we are angry. It means that we are answerable, we are called to account. There are appropriate expressions of anger and inappropriate expressions of it. It is how we handle our anger that becomes moral and this can be either good or bad.
You might be asking by now: ‘Why is he going on so much about anger?’ I am going on about it because I think it is very important. Learning to handle anger is one of the most important lessons in life, and it has real consequences for our mental and spiritual well-being. Suppressing anger is the road to an overdeveloped sense of guilt.
I was once watching a TV soap about two American girls living in a flat in New York. The Jewish one tried to make the other one feel guilty about something. The reply came as quick as a flash. ‘Don’t lay that on me. I’m a Catholic, I’ve got more than my fair share of guilt.’
There is a real truth there. We Catholics are experts when it comes to guilt. We know all about it and we can feel guilty over the most trivial thing. What did the old Confetior say: ‘I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault.’ We certainly knew how to rub it in. And I think that we still do.
In this Gospel passage Jesus lays it on the line. If we were to summarise what he has to say in one sentence it would be: Outward conformity to the law is insufficient, true conversion is conversion of the heart.
Jesus does not just want slavish obedience to the letter of the law. He wants us to see things through his eyes, he wants us to live like he did, he wants us to do the things he did, he wants us to model our lives so closely on him that we become one with him. But most of all he wants us to be free. He does not want us to be overburdened with a heavy sense of guilt.
Everything that Jesus did was to remove guilt. He did not diminish sin, he acknowledged it, and forgave it, and thus banished guilt. He said: ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’ These words could never have come from someone who wanted people to feel guilty. In another place he says: ‘I will set you free, and you will be free indeed.’
When we are faced with a difficult passage from the Gospel and we don’t know what to make of it we remember one thing: it is the Gospel and therefore it is the Good News. Then we look at it afresh and we see the Good News in it. This passage today is not about extending the law to cover inward actions as well as outward actions. It is about seeing what is behind the law, it is about how to be free and how to live a good life.
When we are faced with strong emotions like lust and anger. We mustn’t pretend that they don’t exist and suppress them; battening down our emotional hatches. No, we try to give them expression in an appropriate way.
We acknowledge that we are angry or strongly attracted to another and we experience the emotion. But then we ask ourselves the question: what is the right way to deal with this? And then we do what our conscience dictates. This is the way to live our lives in a way that improves our mental health and stability. This is the way to live our lives in accordance with God’s law.
Two monks were on a long journey. They came to a ford in a wide river and wanted to cross. There was an exceptionally beautiful woman with a low cut dress who also wanted to cross. One of the monks picked her up on his shoulders and waded into the river carrying her across. When they reached the other side he put her down and the two monks continued their journey. When at long last they got to somewhere they could stay the night the other monk berated his companion.
‘How are we going to explain to the Abbot the disgrace you have brought on the monastery? People would have seen you carrying that woman across the river. Had he forgotten that he was a monk? How dare he touch a woman, let alone one so provocatively dressed.’ He went on and on. Finally, the first monk said: ‘Brother, I left that woman on the bank of the river, you seem to have been carrying her all day.’
Digest of Articles from Catholic Blogs and Websites
February 16, 2014
Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
This lengthy excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount echoes the note struck in last Sunday’s gospel where Matthew urged us to seek a more spiritual and personal ideal of moral behavior. Being keenly aware of the more conservative and traditional Jewish Christians in his community at Antioch, he defends their respect for the Mosaic Law and makes it clear that he does not in any sense reject the wisdom expressed there.
Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time: The Fullness of the Law
Let’s begin today by talking about the Gospel of Matthew today. This is the gospel that we will hear proclaimed the most this liturgical year. Matthew’s gospel was written primarily for Christians who had first been Jews. These were Christians who were grounded in the scripture and traditions of the ancient Hebrews. The gospel also addressed Jews who were considering becoming Christians as well as all who wanted to learn more about this New Way, as our faith was first called..
Holiness of the Pharisees
Radio talk show hosts make a living on it. Show after show, they bring before our eyes stupid, unjust and wasteful situations in order to produce outrage. We love to listen and get ourselves all worked up. Our indignation keeps us tuned in and the show’s ratings high.
It’s easy to focus on the outrageous things that others do. It’s easy to clamor that this intolerable situation must come to an end now. For to say this requires little or nothing from us–our demand is that others do something about it, that others mobilize and take action, that others be set straight.
There’s No Hall Pass for Sin
We humans love to escape responsibility. When Mom runs to the room where sounds of a fight are coming from, she finds brothers pointing fingers at each other. When confronted with our trespasses, it is easy to blame someone else. Even in the Garden of Eden, Adam blames Eve and Eve blames the serpent. But one roundabout way of denying responsibility is to claim that we did not have freedom in the first place, that our hand was forced, that we couldn’t help but do what we did. This moral argument comes in many forms: that a person’s upbringing was so bad that he wasn’t really free, that all of human life is physical material and so our moral outcomes are dictated by our DNA and our environment, not by our choices.
Scripture Speaks: Law for the Heart
Jesus told the crowd listening to Him on a mountain that their righteousness must “surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees.” Why?
Gospel (Read Mt 5:17-37)
In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave His followers extended, detailed instructions about life in the kingdom of God. He started with the Beatitudes, describing “blessedness” in terms those hearing Him had never heard before. Lest they begin to think that He was completely overturning all they knew about life as God’s people, Jesus reassured them: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” What did He mean?
They Chose Life. A Beautiful Story
This is beautiful. Whenever we hear of a bad diagnosis of an unborn child, we pray for a miracle. But sometimes we must remember the miracle is that individual life, no matter how long they stay.
A Christian couple from Illinois is sharing their story about choosing life for their unborn terminally ill son and how their son changed their lives in his ten days in the world.
Run away … or stand up and fight for the Truth?
In the increasingly hostile climate that surrounds the Catholic Church today, we are faced with two ways to respond. And more and more Catholics are deciding that running away is not their style. Fueled by the attacks on the Church, they instead are leaning in and working to better understand and defend their faith.
God’s Law is Personal
There is a danger when we speak of God’s Law, to consider it as we might any secular law. For example, we may well consider secular law merely to be some sort of impersonal code written by some nameless legislators or bureaucrats. We have not met them, we do not know them, or necessarily love or trust them. In effect, they are an abstraction in our mind called “the government” or “the man” or just “they,” as in, “They don’t want you to park here” or “They’ll fine you for that.”