Thursday of the Tenth Week in Ordinary Time
June 14, 2007
2 Corinthians 3:15—4:1, 3-6
We have all done it. There we are in our car and we get angry at other drivers and lo and behold, venom that would make our mothers scream comes flying out of our mouths. We rant, we rage and we use words that we would not use in a crowd. Yet we find our cars to be a safe place for unreasonable anger.
Our Gospel text today is a familiar one. Jesus tells us in no uncertain terms that unbridled anger and how we mistreat one another is wrong. Now I am not saying that we are not supposed to get angry. Anger is a normal emotion and really shouldn't be repressed since that causes bad things too. The problem is when we become angry and start treating others as persona non grata. Our anger, if not monitored, can become a terrible weapon. Unfortunately, we all fall victim to rage.
Jesus states clearly in the Gospels that he came not to abolish the law but to complete it. The law? The Ten Commandments. Here Jesus pulls out a biggie. Most people will nod their heads in agreement with "Thou shall not kill". It makes sense. Killing is sin and God wants us to respect all life. Then Jesus takes it a step further. It isn't merely about not killing the body, but also about not killing the spirit of a person. We are more than a body. We are spirit, the very breath of God. How we treat one another is a sure sign of what state our relationship with God is in. It is impossible to declare our love for God while systematically living a life of hatred for one another. What dwells in our heart is just as real as what we do with our hands. The two cannot be divorced.
One of the things that always shocks me is how some folk can come to mass, receive the Body and Blood of Christ and then immediately afterwards come to me and begin ranting and railing against someone who they are angry with or in fact rant and rail against me. (That's what my office is for and I always encourage folk to come and vent there away from the holy place of church.) How can one receive the body and blood of Christ while also plotting out what harsh words or actions they want to use as soon as mass is over? Jesus addresses that in our reading today as well. Jesus wants us to first work on our resentments and anger before we receive him in the Eucharist. Now that doesn't mean that we can keep our heart and mind free from everything while we are at church. We aren't robots who can just switch off everything bad. We come to the Eucharist as wounded people and the Eucharist is the life and peace that heals us. However, that doesn't mean we can just sit and fume through mass, receive the Body and Blood of Christ and then go on the attack of another child of God. No, we must honor the spirit just as we honor the body. Violence against either one is a violation of "Thou shall not kill".
We are called to become that which we have received. The Eucharist is to empower us to go and do and say good things in His name. We cannot love and hate at the same time. We cannot be a disciple of Jesus while at the same time seeking to lash out at and denigrate another of God's children. The two cannot co-exist. "Thou shall not kill" applies to both body and spirit. What we do in our heart will be expressed through our actions and words.
So what do we do? We all get angry and there is no way to abolish anger. We will always experience anger but the crux is what we do with that anger. Do I chose to step back, reflect and give myself time to calm down and react appropriately? Or do I react off the cuff and lash out with venom and foulness? That is a choice we face whenever we get angry.
We can follow the letter of the law while at the same time destroying the spirit of the law, the Ten Commandments. Jesus wants us to follow both letter and spirit. Just because we may not kill the body doesn't mean we don't try hard at killing spirit. Both are precious to God and we must respect the spirit as well as the body.
I am going to try and listen to my own words here. The next time I start to react out of anger, I must try to step back, reflect and allow myself to respond with compassion instead of anger. What a world it would be if we responded with compassion instead of anger.