patty kirk

patty kirk lying down, getting up, sitting at home, walking down the road doing deuteronomy 6:7

Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Next up in Jesus’ mountainside sermon is anger, which he says is tantamount to murder, one of the ten worst sins referenced on Moses’ stones.

He starts with what is seemingly the tamest case—“anyone who is angry with a brother or sister” (Matthew 5:22 NIV)—and renders it even tamer sounding in the concrete: “Anyone who calls a brother or sister ‘Stupidhead!’” (Matthew 5:22, my paraphrase). The potential punishment, though, is anything but tame: being subject to God’s judgment, even hellfire.

Sounds harsh. If you grew up with siblings or watched your own children closely, however, you are familiar with the secret ferocity of the rage he’s talking about—how, though it begins in earliest childhood, it truly is akin to murder. Indeed it would be murder more often, I think, if small ones were more adept in their violence. When I think back on the wraths of my own childhood—I remember, especially, an instance involving a handful of my or my combatant’s hair, ripped out by the roots—I see what Jesus is getting at. I honestly can’t remember whose hair it was, my own or my sister’s, but I remember the spongy pink underside of the scalpskin and, beneath that, the rage. It’s not merely the severity of the action, Jesus is saying; it’s the intent, the attitudes and feelings, that merit eternal punishment.

Also those without siblings are subject to anger on occasion. Rage spans our lives, beginning on the playground and ending in court. We fume against our parents, our employers, our spouses, our children, our closest friends. Even the total strangers who ring up our purchases in stores can kindle our annoyance, frustration, impatience—all synonyms for wrath. Anger is, hands down, the most common symptom of most mental illnesses. It is, on occasion, every person’s sin.

It would have been nice had Jesus iterated, here, what we believers know to be true: that we can’t escape our angry selves, that the only way to avoid hellfire is through genuine shame and acceptance of Jesus’ sacrifice to pay for our murderous rages. But, of course, Jesus hadn’t yet made that sacrifice that day on the mountainside, and the sermon he preached is less about the next life than it is about this one—how we might live better, happier lives while we’re still here.

There is a cure for the inevitable rages of this life, and it is this: conciliatory heart.

Jesus is uncommonly clear about this. “First go and be reconciled,” he counsels (Matthew 5:24). And again, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary” (Matthew 5:25). Reconciliation is not only the wisest solution—you can’t win against someone else’s anger, he argues—but the best one, from God’s point of view. Even church attendance isn’t as important as getting along.

Such a simple cure, and yet so difficult to learn and do. To be reconciled. To settle matters when someone has it in for us. To give in.

Jesus’ gargle of a curseword, raca—“Fool!” but meaner sounding—sums up all sin, it seems to me. It is my father’s growl of annoyance that I have inherited. It my daughters’ arrogance, inherited from me. It is my certainty, in every situation, that I am right and whoever else is wrong.

And, in this early sermon, Jesus seems to be saying it’s up to me to do something about it.


  1. Jesus' words do sound harsh but we are all subject to God's judgment. The point he makes to me is that nobody is worthy and all have failed. I think that the root cause of sin is selfishness. I used to think that humility could be defined as considering the needs of others more important than your own needs. I have been struggling for a new definition because it seems that the whole concept of self is the problem. True humility is probably considering the needs of others and not considering your own needs at all. And yet, Jesus talks about the "humility of a child" any parent knows that children are the most self-centered and self-involved of all people.

    Another topic… I had a Facebook debate with someone about forgiveness and whether is always includes reconciliation. I am not sure that it always does. Sometimes we need to forgive someone and then also "treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector" (keep yourself separated from them). There seems to be the concept of internal and external forgiveness. Sometimes the most loving thing to do is to separate from someone who has sinned against you. It is hard to know when that is.

  2. I don't think forgiving a wrong against me--that is, forgiving someone I'm mad at--is at all what's at issue in the passage you're quoting. Here's the passage (Matthew 18:15-17) in full: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector." I think what's at issue here is not personal injury but outrage at another believer's open sin--along the lines of being insensed at a fellow churchgoer who's having an affair or whom you see beating his or her child. You want the person to quit doing whatever it is--and especially doing it and calling him or herself a Christian--and you may even be angry at the person, but it's not a personal attack on you that you are being asked to forgive. All that's expected of you is that you try your best to get this fellow believer to change his or her ways and then, if you can't, turn it over to the church and let the person go his or her own way.

    Forgiving someone you're pissed off at is, in my view, another thing entirely. I think it's no accident that Jesus gave the two examples he gave: a sibling and someone who's suing you. Those are people whom you feel way differently mad at than just some fellow believer who's misbehaving. And THAT person--the sibling you're on the outs with, the person suing you, the one you deep down despise, if only, hopefully, temporarily--you have to reconcile with. Because, it seems to me, true forgiveness only happens when there's true, personal hurt and true, personal reconciliation.

  3. Thank you for pointing out that the passage may be referring to open sin. A little further down it refers to when a brother "sins against me" and the Facebook conversation I entered into had assumed that this passage was also referring to this and not open sin - big difference. Anyhow, I don’t share your position on reconciliation being a necessary ingredient to forgiveness. I think that I can accept that a person owes me nothing for the wrong they committed against me without reconciling the relationship. I can think of good examples that involve abuse. If it was committed by family, I can see forgiving the person but not reconciling the relationship if that would put me in harms way. If it was committed by a stranger then there is no pre-existing relationship that would need to be reconciled.

  4. I don't know what "open sin" means, first off. I also don't think the passage I'm writing about in this post has anything to do with forgiveness--or, at least, not like those passages in which Jesus says, if a brother or sister comes to you and asks to be forgiven, you're supposed to do it. Certainly the passage is not about whether or not to forgive abuse.
    Rather, I think this passage is about getting mad at someone--thinking you're right and that person's a fool, as we so often do. I think Jesus is saying that, in such situations, we need to humble ourselves and be reconciled. For one thing, it's a wiser path than letting yourself get dragged into court. For another, it's hypocritical to have an abiding grudge or bitterness about someone in your life while being all niceynicey to God. "Go fix the anger," Jesus seems to be saying. And the way to do it--as he says and as is, in my experience, the only way to really truly get over one's anger--is by reconciling.

  5. Also, my "position on reconciliation"--by which I assume you mean whether or not we really have to forgive?--is this: I think Jesus is pretty clear that forgiveness is predicated on the wrongdoer's repentance and upon being asked for forgiveness. If a brother or sister repents and asks for your forgiveness, I think we're commanded to give it. And for me, forgiveness has no real meaning outside of a relationship, as you say, and it has no meaning without a genuine attempt at reconciliation.

  6. You called the type of sin "open sin" and that was what I was referring to. I think we should forgive a sinner regardless of whether they repent or not. In cases where they do not repent, I think we should inwardly - grant pardon, give up claim over, cease to feel resentment for, and all other definitions of forgiveness - seek forgiveness. I don't think there is a requirement in that case to reconcile or outwardly/publicly forgive that person.