Anger and Insults

Matthew 5:21-26 – February 12, 2017


“Anger and Insults”

Have you ever met someone who flew off the handle about the least little thing? I mean, got angry at the drop of a hat? People get angry about all kinds of things. Big things, little things, serious things, even funny things. Like, getting cut off in traffic, or getting passed over for that promotion. Or what about when your shoelace snaps as you’re late for an appointment? What about other people, like when they spill juice all over the kitchen floor? Or when someone does something stupid and thoughtless at work? Doesn’t that just make your blood boil? Sometimes?

Anger happens to all of us, to all different kinds of people. Adults, teenagers, and children, not just once, or twice, but many more times than that. In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has some pointed words for anger and insults. Serious, too.

Let’s start where Jesus starts: the Law of Moses, and specifically, the big ten, or the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20. That is one place Jesus refers to here in Matthew 5:21. “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’”

I am certain the people Jesus was talking to knew what the Law of Moses had to say about murder. Except—the Law of Moses did not say anything about getting angry. (Not in any of the 613 laws found in the Hebrew Scriptures.) What does Jesus say about getting angry?

Matthew 5:22—”But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; 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.”

Whoa! Those words are extremely serious! Jesus takes murder, on one hand, and compares it with anger. What is more, He says they are just as bad as each other!

If we take Jesus’s words as Gospel truth, we are in a sorry state. Everyone gets angry, sometimes. What are we to do?

Dr. Scott Hoezee has a paraphrase that packs a punch: “You haven’t stabbed anyone through the chest or shoved someone to his death off a cliff?  Good for you, but when in your anger you told Harold last week to go take a flying leap, in God’s eyes the ‘Do not murder’ command snapped quite cleanly in two in your life.” [1]

Jesus took the Law of Moses, from the Ten Commandments, and went beyond it. Far beyond it! He did not merely repeat the Law, like any of the scribes and teachers of that day did. Jesus transcended the Law of Moses.

How radical is that? I’ve said it before, and will say it again. Jesus was indeed a radical. He was subversive, never saying or doing what the established religious folks expected. Here, in this passage, Jesus was talking about the inside job, about how people felt on the inside—and how that translated to their outward actions.  

How did we start our service today? After the opening hymn, we had our children’s time, and I started talking about anger. Then—we had a prayer of confession. We confessed our anger, and asked God to forgive us when we get angry.

Let’s go one step further, and turn to another of the commentators, Karen Georgia Thompson: “The comparison is clear. Murder is serious and so is anger. There is a need in this first-century church to look at relationships and how individuals treat each other. There is a value to life and how we value the lives of others.” [2] Over and over again, Jesus talks about relationships, and how we are to act and speak in relationships. Here, Jesus goes one step further and even tells us how we are to think, in a way that will be pleasing to God.

Remember, relationships are more than one-dimensional. Sure, there are relationships on a horizontal level, between individuals, and even between groups of people. But Jesus is talking about the vertical relationship, too. The relationship between me and God, each individual and God. And, our joint relationship between all of us as a congregation and God. It’s quite a sobering thing, when we consider Jesus’s words in this light.

Eugene Peterson translates verse 22 as “Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire.” So, our angry words and thoughts towards others do great harm to our insides.

Jesus is serious when He refers to calling someone “stupid.” “He uses a term that calls into question the other person’s morality–it might be the equivalent of calling someone “a dirty rat,” someone you don’t trust for a second.” Another way of looking at it? Jesus is decrying our belittling of people’s mental powers and our belittling of their moral status. “Let your anger get the best of you in simmering grudge-bearing,” Jesus says, “and sooner or later you’ll start to denounce the people around you as stupid and immoral–as not worthy of your time.” [3]

That is not the kind of relationship Jesus wants us to have! Not with our neighbors, not with those in the church. Not with those in our community, and not with those on the other side of the state line, or the country’s border, or the ocean. What did Jesus say? Quoting from the Message again: “If you enter your place of worship and, about to make an offering, you suddenly remember a grudge a friend has against you, abandon your offering, leave immediately, go to this friend and make things right. Then and only then, come back and work things out with God.”

We have been shocked, and warned. We are all scared down to our shoes by the words of Jesus. What is our next step? What does Jesus say? Jesus gives us some really valuable advice. Action steps, if you will. Jesus does say not to wait too long to do this! We can name the problem that makes us angry and figure out something to do about it.  The Gospel of Matthew says, “be reconciled” with the person who made you angry. That means work it out with them. Figure out how to solve the problem, or the quarrel, or the bad feelings between you. That is not easy. Frequently it helps to get advice or help from other people. [4]

I have known people who hold grudges for years, even decades. On the block where I grew up, two neighbors had a huge fight with each other. One of the neighbors was a sour old man who lived alone. He built a grudge fence, eight feet high, so he would not have to see his neighbor’s yard—less than six feet from his house. The grudge fence stood until he died.

This Gospel reading reaches right out of the Bible and shakes us up. We can even be interrupted in church. If we remember a grudge in the middle of a worship service, Jesus tells us to go, and make it right. Apologize, if we need to. (And, Jesus will help us.)

Right relationships come from the heart. Jesus doesn’t say this until later in the Gospel, but now is a great time to remember: Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Which neighbor? The neighbor we are angry at. The family member we called “idiot.” Say we are sorry. Apologize. Then, God will truly be pleased with us, and with our worship.

Alleluia, amen!

[1] February 06, 2017 The Lectionary Gospel —  Matthew 5:21-37, Author: Scott Hoezee


[2]  “Heartfelt,” Karen Georgia Thompson, Sermon Seeds, 2017.


[3] February 06, 2017 The Lectionary Gospel —  Matthew 5:21-37, Author: Scott Hoezee

[4] Worshiping with Children, Epiphany 6, Including children in the congregation’s worship, using the Revised Common Lectionary, Carolyn C. Brown, 2014. 2011.


(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2017: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)


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