It is an easy thing to say that you like the people one deals with on a daily basis. And if one says that they are spiritual then they can even say that they think of their Higher Power highly.
But the real person is the sum of a lot more than the best thoughts and best actions. To present those things when things are going well and our cracks are not exposed in the light of stress. Such stress can be when we are wronged by someone. We had expectations possibly to be treated with dignity and respect that were proven to high or maybe some other kind that was just as off. Either way, the light of being a loving person toward both God and fellow human beings has to start in the heart.
I remember when I was a kid hearing the idea of what we would feel like if we had a TV screen on our heads wherever we went that showed everything bad we have done. My friends and I groaned about how lame that would be. Then the speaker cut deeper and asked how it would feel if that screen showed everything we seriously considered doing. The groan was much deeper.
When confronted by reading the words below of Jesus, there is chance to renew an examination of our conscience about life not being fair and how to rise above “fair” and choose love.
You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny (Matthew 5:21-26).
There is a famous saying from Father Michael Scanlon, “God opposes the proud [the Bible goes on to say ‘but embraces the humble’], especially when they are right.” The point is that we get in turmoil over the temporary things when God is more invested into us walking in a higher way of thinking. It is supposed to be about trusting Him to sort out the temporal things including how wrong the other person is.
To be angry with a person as an end in itself is not like righteous anger. Jesus had righteous anger because it was clear by natural law and God’s divine law how they should live as teachers of the law and they were hypocrites instead. Such righteous anger carried with it sincere grief over their sin and desire for their repentance to the their best selves per God’ creation. Anger as an end in itself is only personal on what bad you ascribe to the person and not on their well being. To rise above person anger and be open, if appropriate, to righteous anger involves a paradigm shift through prayer and meditation about how one has come to wrongful presuppositions about the life and dignity of their personhood and especially of their greatest enemy.
Saying they are a fool (raca means “empty head”) is denying that they are created in God’s image, whether man or woman, and ascribes a curse to them to not make better decisions. After all, it takes a full head of the right things to make good decisions. We must consider how, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits” (Proverbs 18:21). What would our lives look like if we chose to bless? The key verb is to choose and does not happen by accident. In different verses int the Bible the call to bless your enemies is a commandment precisely because it is hard. But what stops us? We live in a blame culture driven by knowing how to curse people fluently and with a pseudo-intellectual labeling based on what society says are the groups people belong to.
So when you are offering your gift at the altar…
The word “when” assumes for the one who hears that they make coming to the altar a regular thing for worship. But to be in a bad state of contention with someone else hindering access to God should not effect the reader of the New Testament, right? After all, there is no longer an altar to deal with so if if someone else has a problem with you, you have a personal relationship with your Higher Power and can comfort yourself in being a spiritual person with that logic.
Before you have your sigh of relieve, keep in mind that this was not the impression of the early church fathers about the importance of being pure in your daily living before you can commune properly with God.
“On the Lord’s own day, assemble in common to break bread and offer thanks; but first confess your sins, so that your sacrifice may be pure. However, no one quarreling with his brother may join your meetings until they are reconciled; your sacrifice must not be defiled. For here we have the saying of the Lord: ‘In every place and time offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a mighty King, says the Lord; and my name spreads terror among the nations [cf. Mal 1:11]”.
AD 70 The Didache.
So before we congratulate ourselves highly, let’s ask ourselves how much of peace and love is in our lives. And before those of us who pride ourselves for choosing the “Christian team” sit back in our Lazy Boy and procrastinate reconciliation with those we are in strife with, keep in mind that strife is an enemy of the cross of Christ. On the other hand forgiveness and reconciliation is central to connecting to the Higher Power and everyone else. What is stopping us?