6 March 2009 Friday of the 1st Week of Lent
Ez 18, 21-28; Psalm 130; Matthew 5, 20-26
This is an interesting passage if we look at it as a thesis and antithesis structure. Let me explain. A thesis is a statement or a theory that is put forward as a premise to be maintained or proved. In Hegelian philosophy, the antithesis disproves the thesis in a dialogue; it is the direct opposite of the thesis. In the Gospel, we see that the contrast begins with “You have heard ...” (‘that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment’). And the antithesis, which is Jesus’ saying starts with “But I say to you...” (‘whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment...’). In other words, the antithesis describes Jesus as fulfilling the law and the prophets by explaining the meaning of the Old Testament at its deepest levels. Beneath every prohibition (e.g. “Thou shall not... “ from the Old Testament) there is a root disposition (e.g. anger).
Let me explain. The Gospel tells us about the prohibition against murder (Exodus 20, 13 and Deut 5:17). But Jesus said that we should not be concerned only about the act of murder, but we should look at its root disposition --- that is, anger, which may lead us to kill another. Jesus said that we should be more focused on the root disposition so as to prevent ourselves from committing a greater crime. Thus, reconciliation takes precedence over worship, and to some extent, let a misunderstanding or a disagreement end up in court.
Many of us encounter anger situations everyday. Our feelings may vary in intensity: we can be slighted, irritated, irked, peeved, enraged, annoyed, rubbed the wrong way, displeased, vexed, enraged, had our blood boil, aggravated, so and so forth. It can be triggered by a word, an attitude, an incident, a misunderstanding, or aggravated by traffic-violators. The Incredible Hulk is a good image about how our anger can transform us into a monster that has incredible power to destroy and kill. To some extent, we have destroyed a thing or two out of our anger like a water glass or the picture of someone close who hurt us. Anger affects our well-being and our relationships. It can ‘kill’ our bodies, disturb our peace, and even damage or end our precious relationships.
Many of us do not like anger because it is a negative feeling; it is a painful and not a pleasurable experience. When pain is experienced in the present, we are hurt. When pain is experienced as a past incident, we are angry. Anger sometimes originates before the incident, meaning, we already have frustrated and unexpressed emotions that when something triggers it, we react violently because we cannot contain these pent up emotions any longer. Think again, when we are angry, we remember many other incidents that have hurt us. They cumulatively come out like lava from a volcano.
Psychology teaches us how to handle anger: that is why when we are hurt, we must have a certain self-confidence to express it somehow constructively. Thus, we must find a way to de-stress ourselves. We must develop a new way to respond to these emotions. By doing so, it would be easier for us to forgive and reconcile with another. Sometimes, we are over-reactive: our reaction to the action of another person is not commensurate to his or her deed. That is why we regret what we said or did when it is too late. The key is simple as Jesus proposed: go, put down that pride, and ask for forgiveness.