"‘You have heard that it was said….’ ”
In today’s Gospel passage, from very early in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives His first example of the “New Law”: the Law of Love, in contrast to Israel’s understanding of the Law of Moses. The examples that Jesus gives in this section of the Sermon on the Mount have a consistent structure: “You have heard that it was said…. But I say to you….”
As a background to today’s example, consider that our Christian Faith teaches that sins come only from the human will. There are indeed sins that proceed from anger, fear, boredom, and other emotions. But the “bad emotions” are not the sins. The “sins of anger” (or “of fear”, or “of boredom”) are the choices that we freely make when we choose to order our lives according to these emotions (that is, when we match our actions to our emotions).
Consider carefully what Jesus says: He does not say, “Whoever is angry with his brother is sinning.” Jesus says that when anger is within a person, that person will be “liable to judgment”, meaning that the freely chosen actions that flow out of a person filled with anger will be judged. A person with anger in his soul will be held liable for his choices, not only if he kills out of anger, but even if he speaks ill out of anger.
Note also: emotions come and go, but our choices remain. Among the many “sins of anger” (free choices that flow from a soul experiencing anger), one of the more powerful is the free choice to “nurture” or “nurse” the emotion of anger. In a normal human life, anger can leave one’s life just as quickly as it enters. But often, a person wants to use this emotion as a source of what he thinks is “strength”. This active nurturing of anger is a true and common sin.
With all this in mind, and in light of the Cross of Jesus Christ, we can reflect on this question: Do I ask God merely to take away my anger, or to help me act justly in the face of anger?