Anger, accusation and making peace.
Reading this week Matthew 5:21-26
Life is about relationships.
One of the outcomes of the various stages of CoVid19 lockdowns has been a growing awareness of how important are our connections with other people. We have witnessed the sheer loneliness of the elderly person shut indoors with only very occasional visits from a friend or neighbour to leave a basket of shopping to be picked up. Or the utter desperation of a Mum-to-be having to be without a partner in the maternity unit when a child was still-born. The mental and emotional impact of loneliness is becoming better charted territory, and we are just beginning to explore it more thoughtfully.
Maintaining good relationships is therefore vitally important for our total well-being. It is this theme that runs through Jesus’ teaching and our readings this week.
vv 21-22 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.
One of the lies we might well have picked up some time is ‘Sticks and stones may hurt your bones but words can never hurt you’. It is a lie and it is possible that you might have experienced the force of it at some point in life. Words hurt – and can stick around in your memory for ages. You can, almost certainly, say ‘I’ve never committed murder’, but what about the angry ‘You’re an idiot’ or even ‘You’re plain stupid!’ Say that often enough to a young person and it sticks in their mind until they believe it – and that has consequences for their confidence and self-image. Abusive language can cause both pain and damage to a person.
Healthy personal relationships depend on the right use of language in the give and take of life. To explain a breakdown in a relationship I have heard a young person say, ‘She called me a ….’ And the damage was done.
Today’s reading from James 3 reminds us of the power of the tongue ‘ In the same way, the tongue is a small thing that makes grand speeches.
But a tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire. It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body. It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself. ‘
Jesus’ teaching, and the warning, is extraordinarily practical and realistic.