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Thursday, May 15, 2014

Don't Get Mad

I read today from Matthew: Jesus said, "You have heard it said...."
Jesus quotes Scripture and then intensifies it in the Sermon on the Mount. It is fascinating to consider what Jesus said (and where and when) and then imagine how all that teaching (spread out over endless hours and endless miles to multiple audiences) ended up being remembered and recited by various disciples. Somehow all those words are refined to the few words recorded in Scripture.

As a preacher, it is my honor to stand each week in the pulpit and deliver my homily. I write a rough draft (published each week on this blog) which serves as my mental preparation. However, each weekend, first on Saturday at 5pm and then on Sunday at 8:45 and 11, I deliver that homily verbally. Some of what I say is actually on the sheet of paper, at times delivered exactly as written. Most of the time there are additions and omissions. None of the three is the same and sometimes they are quite different.

So which one is my words? The written blog or what I actually said?

Jesus told the same stories, I am sure, in different places. I also think He made shifts and changes according to the circumstances and audiences. He seemed to give hope and good news to the underclass, reminding them of the faithful love of God. To the well off and to those in leadership, His message had a sharper edge; a stern reminder that we can grab all the gusto we can get here and now, but the eternal cost may be greater than we realize. Jesus, following the tradition and Scriptures of Judaism, was a man of Yahweh's religion. Jesus was a faithful Jew.

So as we read from Matthew 5 this week, starting with those Beatitudes, I am pondering all the times Jesus broached these subjects and how Matthew has collected one version and compiled it into a neat set of preaching notes. Yet, reflecting on that divinely inspired human process can also be a distraction. After all, there was a message today:

you have heard it said you shall not kill, but i say to you that if you get angry you are liable to judgment.

I have a temper, a bad one. I am prone to get angry. When I am tired or hungry or stressed I am more prone to get angry. It seems I have been tired for years.... so the words of Jesus are terrifying. I have not killed anyone. Never came close. But I have been mad. I have yelled. I have called people racca/fool, and called them much worse. (especially people who drive around Memphis) It is simply the case that I have never become the saintly man I dreamed of being. My soul is not a peaceful garden of delights, bearing fruits of gentleness, kindness and unerring mercy. So I find myself, in prayer, reading the words of Jesus and saying, "Any hope for me, Master?"

What makes it worse, I know what lies ahead in Matthew. We are going to hear about lust and bad thoughts and other internal things. Things which are hidden from view. Things which are secret in my heart and yours. Things which Jesus equates with bad behaviors. Things which shake us up because they mean we are condemned, too.

Reading the Gospel, I imagine all the times and places Jesus said this sort of thing about anger. I think of Jews, long dead now, who like me were cut to the heart. Jews in ancient Israel who looked in Jesus' eyes and said, "I am guilty of this." I think of them and wonder what He said to them. And I hope it was something like "come to me, you who are tired and burdened by life. come to me with your weight of sin and guilt. come to me, trust and find hope. your sins are forgiven"

I am sorry for being angry. And I promise I will not get angry any more. Never again. I will be better.

Well, until the next time I am mad....

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