In failing to confess, Lord, I would only hide You from myself, not myself from You."
- Saint Augustine
Gospel text (Mt 5:20-26): Jesus said to the crowds, «I tell you, then, that if you are not righteous in a much broader way than the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.
You have heard that it was said to our people in the past: Do not commit murder; anyone who does kill will have to face trial. But now I tell you: whoever gets angry with a brother or sister will have to face trial. Whoever insults a brother or sister deserves to be brought before the council; whoever calls a brother or a sister “Fool” deserves to be thrown into the fire of hell.
So, if you are about to offer your gift at the altar and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar, go at once and make peace with him, and then come back and offer your gift to God. Don't forget this: be reconciled with your opponent quickly when you are together on the way to court. Otherwise he will turn you over to the judge, who will hand you over to the police, who will put you in jail. There you will stay, until you have paid the last penny.
For some reason, I find this gospel passage quite curious today. And I find it curious in a most peculiar way. It has to do with how “we” interpret scripture.
There are so many approaches, aren’t there? How are we to know which to follow?
Broadly speaking, when Christians interpret scripture, we/they distinguish between different elements…
•There are sections that some interpret literally. For example, the world was created in seven days. A man named Moses fled Egypt with a band of followers. Jesus lived in first century Palestine. What seems to be at issue is which sections are to be taken literally, much less what a literal reading means.
•There are sections that others interpret allegorically. That is, interpreters apply an outside structure of meaning to scripture to yield a new way of looking at things. For example, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus represent all Christians on the journey of conversion. The Lucan passage serves merely as an illustration of the greater reality, the journey of conversion.
•There are sections that some interpret symbolically. In other words, interpreters recognize depths possibly not intended in the original piece. For example, in interpreting the healing of the man with a withered hand, a preacher would explore the depths of the meaning of a withered hand. Instead of standing for only one reality, the symbol would manifest many layers of meaning.
How are we to interpret this gospel passage? Literally? Allegorically? Symbolically?
How do we in fact interpret this? I have often heard folks mainly trying to ease back Jesus’ prohibitions. It’s as if we want to make space in order to contain its power.
It’s OK to get angry if…
It’s OK to be angry when…
Righteous anger is appropriate if…
Capital punishment is fine when…
Anger is pretty bad, but unchastity is worse since…
I wonder what the odds are that we in the Church, much less in U.S. society, will listen to the gospel today. Given the high degree of road rage that we express on the highway, in the pews, and in response to “those others” today, I’d put my money on anger.
It seems to me that this passage actually is as much about reconciliation than anger. Perhaps we in the Church might commit ourselves to reconciliation as an interim stage, to help us as we seek healing from whatever drives us.