Dear Friends in Christ,
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist, her voice shaking with anger, told world leaders at the UN in New York, ‘You have stolen my childhood with your empty words. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is the money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth – how dare you.’ Many things make us angry, and some anger is right, fit and proper. Sometimes we know we are wrong to be angry; much more often we think we are right. We think the fault lies with others – they have made us angry. Or else certain situations provoke us to anger – and because these are bad situations, we feel that we have the right to express our anger. Jesus teaches with extraordinary clarity that ‘everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgement; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says: “You fool!” shall be liable to the hell of fire.’
Must we take Jesus seriously? Jesus’ radical teaching on anger sees it as the root of murder. Angry feelings, if they are nursed and not dealt with, become hatred. The fruit of hatred can sometimes be actual murder. Jesus warns us to avoid the possibility of such appalling fruit of our anger by dealing ruthlessly with the initial feelings of anger. He does not say that we cannot feel anger, express anger or even act on it. What he says it that we do not have the right to hang on to it, nurse it and vent it. Instead we must learn to let go of our anger so that we can imitate him better.
There were, of course, occasions when Jesus himself knew righteous anger and expressed it – but his anger never led him to sin. When he was betrayed, insulted, ridiculed, tortured and crucified, he had full right to feel angry. However, Jesus let go of his feelings of anger and forgave his oppressors: ‘Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. Jesus shows us a new way of living. As his disciples we must emulate him. Whenever we are angry, we must acknowledge our anger and then let it go by calling on the Lord’s grace. Christ’s Spirit will give us the power to fulfil his commandment to live as he did.