Daily Devotional 11-11-15

Word on Wednesday – by John Mason

Anger  November 11, 2015

In Albert Camus’ play, Caligula, the Emperor Caligula said: “This world has no importance and whoever recognizes that wins his freedom. And that’s just it—I hate you because you are bound. I alone am free. Rejoice, for you finally have an emperor to teach you freedom…”

Did the Roman Emperor Caligula represent true freedom? History tells us that he used his power in extravagant self-indulgence, no matter how cruel, how disgusting, how insane.

In every age many have defined freedom in similar terms. They view it as the ability to do whatever you want, without any external restraints. For the terrorist it means putting your own stamp on the world. For the capitalist it means freedom from market controls. For the hedonist it means the license to explore a multiplicity of sexual partners.

Camus’ Caligula seemed to be able to do anything. But was he really free? As the play concludes we see Caligula facing his murderers with these words: I have chosen a wrong path, a path that leads to nothing. My freedom isn’t the right one…. Oh, how oppressive is this darkness!

As many have observed, ‘Freedom is not the absence from all constraint, but submission to right constraints.’ Where then can true freedom be found?  

In Matthew 11:28-30 we read Jesus’ words: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light”. And in Galatians 5:1 Paul the Apostle says, It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.

As Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount unfolds we discover the highest ethical standard ever set. Live out these words, and most people are agreed that we will find freedom. As we plumb Jesus’ teaching we see he is not simply setting out a list of do’s and don’ts. His words go to the heart of our lives – our attitudes and values, not just our words and actions.

So, in Matthew 5:21 we read: You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.”

The command, ‘You shall not murder’ is the sixth of the Ten Commandments. To bring anyone who commits murder to a court of law and consequent judgment is written into another part of the Mosaic Law. But consider what Jesus goes on to say: But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment (5:22).

Usually hatred and anger are emotions that lie behind the act of murder. Here Jesus is saying that our thoughts of hatred and anger are a problem. He is speaking not just about the act of murder but the harboring of murderous thoughts against others. All are subject to judgment. 

And not content to stop there, he continues: “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.

If anger is forbidden so is contempt. ‘Raca’ is an Aramaic expression meaning ‘empty’. We could translate the word, ‘fool’ or ‘idiot’. Harboring such attitudes towards others leads to judgment. The ‘Valley of Hinnom’ is where perpetual fires burned the refuse of Jerusalem. What a striking metaphor for the eternal separation from God and from all that is true and good.

We may not literally have blood on our hands, but what about those thoughts we have or the words we say when someone blocks our plans and aspirations? ‘Get out of my way…’ Or what about those times of family argument when we storm out, slamming the door?

Jesus’ words take us behind the simple meaning of ‘murder’ to the deeper meaning of the commandment – the issue of anger. Judgment that we reckon to be reserved for the literal murderer also hangs over those who are angry, bitter and contemptuous. Who is not guilty?

The starting point to finding true freedom is to turn afresh to Jesus’ words. None of us lives up to his standards. We need to cry out for mercy and for the inner strength to live his way.

© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com