Deuteronomy 30:15-20 or Sirach 15:15-20 • Psalm 119:1-8 • 1 Corinthians 3:1-9 • Matthew 5:21-37
The readings for Sunday February 16 continue to challenge us: grow up! Beginning in the middle, the First Corinthians reading likens the readers to newborn infants. The Deuteronomy reading tells us to choose wisely. Matthew brings it home, with some of the most important and most ignored directives in scripture, in a description of mature ways to deal with common human emotions.
One emotion discussed in the Matthew reading is anger. Jesus is describing a situation where a person is angry with a brother or a sister – a situation that resonates from the first century to the 21st. Nothing has changed in the last 2000 years, a very brief time in the history of our planet and the human beings on it. Most of us can remember being angry with a brother or a sister early in our lives – and most of us, in our most honest moments, might still admit to more recent moments of anger towards one or more siblings. Anger, that is, occurring in one of its many forms, from disappointed to offended to incredulous to contempt to resentment to frustration to complete outrage.
Last week I was at my gym one evening when a person near me began talking about her family with her trainer. It was remarkable. She spent at least five minutes of her training session talking about a recent visit from her sister and how the sister had offended her. Somehow, the parents were involved too, and that also required a discussion, and maybe another five or ten minutes or so. I was trying hard not to listen, and the content doesn't matter anyhow. Nor does it matter that she was experiencing anger. It is a human feeling; and having a sense of anger is not in itself to be held against a person.
What does matter is how anger can capture a person. There she was, paying a trainer to help her with her physical health, and instead using the time to focus on her sister. What a waste of time! Family relationships are so powerful that even when angry, even when distant from the 'offending' member, one can think of nothing else.
In an astonishingly similar way, a person who is sexually attracted to another can begin to lust after that person, thinking of nothing else. Again, what a waste of time! In verse 28, Jesus warns us to avoid entertaining the intense desire that follows the initial attraction. The danger is that lust captures the person – it is distracting, reducing the capacity towards emotional reason. The problem is not the instinct of sexual attraction itself: that much is a part of who we are as humans. It is what we do with our instincts and feelings that matters.
Going back to anger, Jesus is quite specific about what needs to be done. Go and find that sibling and reconcile. That is not easy to do. But is it easier to live a thousand miles from one's siblings, see them briefly, and then spend the days between the visits ruminating on and/or complaining about and/or ignoring what they did? The time and energy spent on avoiding the problem is striking. The road towards real contact with one's family members – clearly saying what one is thinking, completely owning one's own contribution to the problem, really listening to the other – may seem hard at first. But it is how we grow up. The mature person has no trouble following these words; they are a description of how a grown-up behaves. The rest of us have a choice, many times a day, to stay on the path towards maturity.
Morning: What may get in the way of operating from my mature side today?
Evening: How could I have used more emotional reason in my day? Where did I waste my time?