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If Jesus’ people are to be “salt” and “light,” then they have to be a contrast to other people in the world. How we handle our anger will either make us look like a fool or a child of God. It is up to us to respond to what Jesus teaches us on the subject.
Jesus Paints a Vision
Jesus paints a vision of anger from the negative point of view. He said, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’
“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” (Matthew 5.21-22).
There were 15,498 murders in the United States in 2018. Missouri ranked eighth in the murder rate with 608 murders. Everyone who glorifies violence ought to be required to sit down with a mother, a wife or children and tell them that their loved one was killed by another person.
If people obeyed the command, “You shall not murder,” our world would have 15,498 families with a brother, a sister, a mother or a father still present.
Imagine a tree. If the leaves represent the 608 murders in Missouri, the two roots of anger and insult produce the leaves. There may be other reasons for murder, but these two are prominent.
Insults allow people to think less of other people. I have been in a few meetings with John Perkins, the founder of the Christian Community Development movement. His brother was shot and killed in Mendenhall Mississippi, because he tried to sit in the wrong section of the movie theater. As John was holding his dying brother’s head in his lap, he vowed to leave Mississippi and never come back.
God had other plans. His daughter attended a Backyard Bible Club in California where they had moved. She met Jesus as her Savior, came home and helped both her mother and father meet Jesus, too. John was a successful business manager, but God had other plans for him. He called him back to Mendenhall to start a church.
Not too long after John arrived back in Mendenhall, he was beaten by the same man who killed his brother. His injuries were so severe that they have remained with him throughout his life. When I lived in Louisiana, I took a short cut through Mendenhall to get home. I told John, “While you were getting beat up in Mendehall, I was driving through your town completely unaware.”
How could one man be murdered and another man be severely beaten and no one be charged with the crime? Jesus knew. If we make the person we are injuring less than human, we are able to do it. You have probably guessed that John and his brother are African American men, who experienced these crimes in the 1960s and 1970s.
What about anger? A familiar story begins with these words, “Two drunks went into a bar . . .” I have officiated five funerals that complete sentence. “Two drunks went into a bar. They got angry and someone got killed.”
What about Offenses?
Jesus links insults and anger with offending other people. If we assume that the audience for the Sermon on the Mount heard Jesus’ words in Galilee, then Jesus’ next words become very challenging.
Jesus said, “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” (Matthew 5.23-24).
The altar that Jesus spoke about was in the Temple in Jerusalem and it was an 80 mile pilgrimage from Galilee to Jerusalem. The image is one of a person about to sacrifice, who remembers that they have wronged someone. If they followed Jesus’ direction, they would leave the sacrifice return home, an 80 mile trip, to make amends for the offense.
Followers of Jesus, as “salt” and “light,” live in contrast to people around them. When they have offended someone, they make every effort to correct the situation.
I have had plenty of practice cleaning up messes that I have made. I have learned that to admit my wrong, to apologize for my behavior, and to not attempt to defend my actions works wonders with broken relationships. If the wrong needs to be made right, I must take action on that, too.
I have learned to use the word “amends” from my friends in Alcoholics Anonymous.
“What does “amends” mean? It is compensation for a loss, damage, or injury of any kind. There are steps you take to make amends, which include:
— Take stock of the damage you caused.
— Express the desire to repair it.
— Admit to your mistakes.
— Find a way to repair the damage.
— Be patient about getting someone’s trust back.
AA approaches the making of amends with Step 8 and Step 9:
Step 8: “We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
Step 9: “We made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.”
Dr. Bob Smith, one of the co-founders of AA, read a selection from the Sermon on the Mount, the Book of James and 1 Corinthians 13 every day. I believe these steps came from Jesus’ teaching. They outline a powerful way for all people to be “salt” and “light” in contrast to the darkness of our world.
Pay Your Debts
I was a pastor in the Pascagoula River Swamp for three years in the early 1970s. One of my friends was the owner of a small convenience store not too far from the church. Even though he was a good man and a friend, he made it clear to me that he was never going to set foot in church. When I asked him why, he gave me the names of deacons, Sunday School teachers, and one former pastor who owed him money with no plan to pay. He had actually caught two of these people stealing from him.
There are fewer ways to fail more miserably at being “salt” and “light” than to deal dishonestly with money. In a message about anger and insults, followers of Jesus should not cause store owners to be angry because of their dishonest behavior.
Jesus told us the right thing to do. He said, “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 5.25-26).
Bottom line: Pay your bills as an act of being “salt” and “light.” This is a perfect illustration of one of Maywood Baptist Church’s best slogans, “Don’t talk about it. Be about it.”
Dear God, thank you for your grace. Please help us to respond to what Jesus is teaching us in this passage. Please help us to have your Spirit in control of our anger and insults. Please help us to make amends and to be sure to pay our bills. Thank you.