Viewpoint XIV

The Church teaches that: Anger is a desire for revenge. “To desire vengeance in order to do evil to someone who should be punished is illicit,” but it is praiseworthy to impose restitution to correct vices and maintain justice. The Lord says, “Everyone who is angry with his brother (or sister) shall be liable to judgement.”

The Catechism places anger under the major heading of Article 5, The Fifth Commandment: “Thou shall not kill,” (Exodus 20:13; P 544). The Church also places anger as one of the seven capital sins by simply following the admonitions of its Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who said:  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘ You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother or sister will be subject to judgement. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca’ (worthless) is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Life is the most precious gift we have. At creation the seeds of life were sown. When man emerged he knew of his origin through God’s self communication, and understood his life as a transitory good fully dependent on the Creator while living a fragile and dangerous existence. Seeing others as he sees himself was and is the common bond of humanity. While man was free of most restraints, he was never free of the knowledge of his life in God. His conscience developed on a scale of values totally related to the gifts of life and an enlightened mind depending on a power higher than himself. Common good was predicated on an Ultimate Good if a rational, meaningful life was to be led.  By the perversion of his gift of freedom, a condition where he was like God, the human bond was broken for selfish purposes by acts of distorted wills; the harming and killing of each other. The family of humanity was meant to share and not to deprive each other of the precious gift of life and the means of survival.

When man granted himself the power over life and death, he claimed for himself the power of the Creator, and it would not be until many centuries later that he would kill the Ultimate Good in the person of Jesus Christ. This would be the turning point in history only two thousand years ago.

The Father showed with the “paschal mystery” triumph over death for those who believe as they had once believed in him—the ground of all being. Now, with the new covenant, “Anyone who is angry with his brother or sister is subject to judgement.” Now, “peacemakers will be called the children of God.” Could it be that “the best of all possible worlds” might exist by following the examples of Christ? Can mercy really be the replacement for vengeance? Although restitution and justice must be served, can forgiveness glorify God and exult us all in the process?  Everlasting life was promised to those who were “blind” and would now see. Even more so, “Blessed are they who have (literally) not seen and have believed.”

Most of us do not live a life of perpetual anger that would propel us to harm or even kill somebody, but I believe we have all felt some degree of anger at one time or another in the course of our experiences. When Jesus overturned the tables of the “moneychangers” and vendors of the Temple and drove them out with a whip-chord, it sets one to wonder whether the human race’s only sinless man was angry.  Now if Jesus were to sin by being angry, he would certainly be in contradiction of himself as the Christ—who is God. Though everything is possible with God, he will not contradict himself.

What we need to remember is that Jesus is also the Son of Mary, the Son of Man, the living link between heaven and earth. Does that mean he was capable of sin? All references to this point go directly to St. Paul in (Hebrews 4: 15-16)

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin.” Jesus’ human will was so perfectly given to the will of the Father, whom he knew, that there was no chance of him committing sin, This was the new Adam. We do know though, he was subject to emotions. We know he wept, we know how he was tempted, we know, on occasion, that he was frustrated, all for the purpose of teaching us the lessons of a renewed life, in the Kingdom of God.

Let’s say that if Jesus wasn’t angry, he was surely vexed, according to the gospels. Was it vengeance he was after? For the thousands of Jews who came from all over to offer sacrifices, the coinage had to be proper to the temple treasury. The sellers benches to be near the money exchange tables made sense since you didn’t have to go far to make the transaction. The three gospels, Matthew, Mark and John found this lively trade going on inside the “temple courts” I presume not too many pilgrims would be carrying sacrificial animals for miles on the way to the Passover celebrations. John’s gospel quotes the Lord saying —  or maybe even hollering at the dove sellers: “Get these out of here. Stop turning my Fathers house into a market.”

The crowd, obviously annoyed, started asking him by what authority he was acting under, he said: “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” Those words taken literally had to seem insane to the hearers, and they became condemnatory and would be thrown back at him at his trial.

Beside the temple being the place where God dwelt, it had become a money-machine for those in charge as well as for the Roman authorities. Later,  the chief priests and teachers of the law with the elders came to him, again in the temple courts, and pressed him to answer, once again the question: “By what authority are you doing these things?” Jesus, using a common Jewish dialectic answered the question with a question: “ John’s baptism—was it from heaven or of human origin? Tell me!” They were stumped. If they said from heaven, they would have been required to believe John. They could not, by the same token say of human origin, since the people believed John to be a genuine prophet, and they feared the crowds. They simply gave up and said: “We don’t know.” Jesus then said to them: “Then neither will I tell you by what authority I am doing these things.”  Now we can look into Jesus’ motive for acting harshly with those who were involved.

When the affluent said they didn’t know where John’s authority came from they revealed their true colors. It wasn’t the Almighty they were concerned with, it was the business at hand and that middle-of-the-road non commitment that has become typical of every generation. Their sentiments rested completely with themselves. Here they were, inside the holiest place on earth, spiritually close to the God of their fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; a place soaked in the blood of sacrifices; infused with the admonitions of the prophets as well as the very center of their tumultuous history, from Moses to David and Solomon and so on. From Jesus‘ viewpoint they were degrading the very heart of their faith. The house of God, was becoming a “den of thieves.” This was a sin against the Spirit whom they seemed not to know. Love was not paramount as the Shema proclaimed: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength , etc.” Jesus‘ purpose, in this case, was to bring restitution; to restore the Temple to its original state of holiness. An act of returning something that had been lost or stolen by selfishness. His act of “cleansing” had little to do with anger associated with vengeance.

The time would come where we would “worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem” (John 4 : 21) and the fulcrum of that worship would be Jesus himself. He would be the new temple raised up in three days following his murder, where the fifth commandment of Moses was broken by mankind. The Shema would be revived in the new covenant. “This is my body which will be given up for you.” Our neighbors would be every other human being as was originally planned.

The common good depends on the Ultimate Good which depends entirely on Jesus Christ, man’s link to the Father. Some of us may need to arrive at belief with a primitive knowing; a recognition that our intellect is from a divine source, a kinship with God written on the heart. Others, with a deconstructionist standpoint may parse the laws of nature back to the “singularity” and the great expansion, and accept the fact that what is, just might not have happened by itself. Still others may conclude by guesswork that all that is had no beginning; thus making a joke of scientific endeavor by holding that this is belief qua belief. Morals and ethics then, being a creation of our own, would not necessarily be subject to universal compliance. This would make life an emotional trajectory, and anger, like animal posturing actually good for you, a natural activity which under proper conditions even killing someone in a vengeful way may be completely acceptable. Hate and love are equivalent —  so there is really no right and wrong. Personal sensitivity would be the only permanent justification for action.

Do you think this is not happening in the world? Look again at the Middle East. These are not religious fanatics, these are people who rejected their religion for selfish motives. Look into the world of politics and see  the forces of personal destruction at work in the hands of “human” beings, using lies deception and even murder to suit their power goals. In my estimation, no animal displays what we would call anger. They may posture for dominance or act in “beastly” ways to feed themselves and their young so as to survive, but all their activities are entirely positive in nature to keep their species healthy and proliferating. Even the wildest of beasts have an order and gentleness about them. There is no hate in the food chain. The glory of God shows even in the lowly worm.

Not so with many of Homo Sapiens’, the human animal, those of a higher nature. He and she are rational creatures who may act in both a positive and a negative manner. The gift of freedom to act unilaterally among others, should call for a sense of responsibility, where it is necessary to treat others as you would hope to be treated.

Man, reflecting his own human nature on the Creator, understood vengeance as God’s way of punishing man for transgressions against a covenant which established human order and a common good.  It was not until God became man that we understood we could conquer death by the practice of love of the Ultimate Good and an expressed love for each other.

People act against their “good nature” for many reasons. The study of consciousness has given us new and powerful insights to human behavior.  With all this new knowledge one wonders why it is so difficult to quell the anger in the public square and as it appears in every part of the world.

We should have no doubt that the possibility of excessive anger in a human being is inherent, and very much related to the posturing of animals. Human beings though, have the option to temper their actions with reason, and to foresee unintended consequences that could result from rage. Most modern psychiatrists, when they are not pushing pills, believe that a certain amount of “letting off steam” can lessen the possible harmful effects of the suppression of anger.

I’ve made this case to illustrate how many of us, in modern times, look at anger as a purgation of pent-up emotions, the release of which is said to be good for you, a cleansing. If that were the case, one might say that the more angry one gets the more relieved or the “cleaner” one becomes.  Of course everything has its limit. When anger goes to extremes and violence follows those who can’t or won’t be reasonable have been known to get very depressed and excessively guilty. Although reason can be faulty, it is by clear reasoning that extreme forms of anger can be mitigated to a point where everybody wins. Reason, as a lower form of intelligence can be stretched and made to suit any situation, whereas the intellect, beyond the capacity of reason, is a knowing — a comprehension of the value of temperance as the norm.

In matters of anger, judgement is always involved. We become the judge of other’s acts and intentions just as they become judge of ours. Irreconcilable differences absolutely call for reasonable alternatives. When it becomes clear that others are acting out of ill will, it is not who they are but what they’re doing that generates anger. As it was with Jesus in the temple courts. Humans are not in the least perfect creatures, but, hopefully, only working towards perfection. We are all certainly aware of the fact that we do not always act out of good will though we know exactly what it is. The only good thing about acting contrary to the good is that we have been given the free will to do so. Acting with ill will and a bad temperament carries with it the expectation of retribution from somewhere, either from others or from the Ultimate Good whom we have transgressed.

If we are unable to expect or offer mercy, society is all the poorer because of our ill will. In the prayer of Jesus there is a wonderful bargain suggested: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Is that possible today? Can we see the other person as a creature of God, as we are, or do we see ourselves as superior against the faults of others, having fewer faults than they?

“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” works fine if we’re all acting out of good will. Although society expects retribution and exact justice, as does its creator, is there no mercy for the ill willed? It is well to remember: “Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy.” We are not showing weakness by showing mercy. Our reward comes by doing the will of a merciful God while acting out our own good nature, leaving us with a conscience that remains reasonably clear

Pentecost, 2011

This entry was posted in Viewpoint. Bookmark the permalink.