I’m looking at another shooting headline this week…this time in the capital at a baseball practice, where several members of congress would have been killed were it not for the dedicated work of capital police. The shooting was politically motivated and the individual responsible was obviously a sick man. I heard about it first as a congresswoman spoke on the radio. She had been at the practice with her daughter and she said she was scared as hell.
Many people today bathe their minds with images of graphic horror and violence in theaters and in the privacy of their own homes. Violent role-play is now an acceptable form of entertainment, but most people are not entertained or amused by actual terrorism or gun violence, especially when they are the victims. Instead, they express shock and surprise, which is really just the denial of our own readiness to do evil given the right conditions.
The root of all violence is fear, anger, and resentment. In response, Jesus wants to scare the hell out of us, literally: “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” (Matt. 5: 22). Jesus isn’t kidding. He wants to scare the hell of bitterness and malice against others out of us with this sobering thought: our attitudes and actions today are molding us into the person we will be for eternity.
“There are a good many things which would not be worth bothering about if I were going to live only seventy years, but which I had better bother about very seriously if I am going to live forever. Perhaps my bad temper or my jealousy are gradually getting worse – so gradually that the increase in seventy years will not be very noticeable. But it might be absolute hell in a million years: in fact, if Christianity is true, Hell is the precisely correct technical term for what it would be.” – C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 73.
If Jesus can get us to understand the horrific consequences of our anger, we may be ready to hear his positive command to reconcile with those we are angry with. It’s significant that Jesus’ first illustration of reconciliation in the Sermon on the Mount takes place at the temple where religious folks are “offering gifts at the altar” (Matt. 23-24). As we put our dollar in the plate, Jesus asks: “Are you holding a grudge against anyone today?” If you are, then God isn’t interested in your hymn singing, your sermon notes or even your offering envelope. He wants to see you make things right first. Jesus knew that in the future, “religious folks” would be as likely as anyone to start wars and fuel bitter anger and resentment. After all, he was condemned by religious professionals.
So Jesus warns us to reconcile quickly, or we are going to pay for it lengthily: “Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court…or you will not get out until you’ve paid the last penny” (Matt. 5: 26). “Do not let the sun go down on your anger,” says Paul (Eph. 4.26). Don’t let resentment drag on for weeks and months and years, eating you away from the inside out. Don’t become part of the wave of anger and resentment that seeks to pull us in and drag us down. Let’s not contribute one iota to a world where we can’t fly in a plane, see a movie, go to an office party, walk down a city street, attend a concert, go to a baseball practice, or even attend church without worrying that something really bad is going to happen. Jesus, come scare the hell out of us, please.