“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
“So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God.
“When you are on the way to court with your adversary, settle your differences quickly. Otherwise, your accuser may hand you over to the judge, who will hand you over to an officer, and you will be thrown into prison. And if that happens, you surely won’t be free again until you have paid the last penny.” (Matthew 5:21–26 NLT)
Like all emotions, anger by itself is not wrong. In fact, we would be deficit as people of God if we never experienced anger over injustice when it rears its head. Where we err is in feeding that anger, adding fuel to that small emotional flame until it rages like a fire that cannot be contained, especially when we feed it for selfish reasons. We can also err by allowing our anger to dictate our response. “Don’t sin by letting anger control you” (Psalm 4:4).
Interestingly, Jesus is not just telling us to be aware of our own anger; he calls us to seek reconciliation with those who are angry with us, temporarily setting aside our time of worship in his Father’s house to remedy the broken relationship. This requires of us a level of awareness – empathy even – that is not always easy. Most of us operate day-to-day by blocking out the extraneous information that is just so much distracting background noise. One of the ways we do this is through the use of concentric circles of relationship to focus on who we consider to be important; we are keenly aware of ourselves, slightly less aware of our closest friends and family, hardly notice our casual acquaintances, and pay little to no attention to everyone beyond that.
As time goes on, especially when many of us have been more or less sequestered at home for the past year, it becomes all too easy to collapse those relational circles, limiting who we place in the inner groups and shunting everyone else to the outer edges. What would it look like if we instead pushed against that natural gravity and continued to make ourselves available for others through empathy and presence?