Homily offered by Father Matthew C. Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, 2020.
Our loving Lord Jesus speaks to us today about being angry with others and being insulting towards others. He says, “Every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment.” And He adds, “Whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool’ shall be liable to the hell of fire.” And so Jesus is speaking to us about ordinary emotions and reactions—emotions and reactions we experience in our normal, work-a-day lives. Being angry with another person; speaking to them in an insulting way that ignores their dignity; and then going yet the next step and calling them a name—you fool, you idiot, or something I heard a lot growing up around Jewish friends and schoolmates, you schmuck. Anger, insult, name-calling—these are all sins, and committing them is to act contrary to Scripture, which teaches clearly that God has not commanded any one to be ungodly, and He has not given any one permission to sin.
This is the immediate context of our Lord’s next teaching: “So,” He continues, “if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brothers, and then come and offer your gift.” Our Jesus is giving spiritual direction to His disciples, knowing that there will be moments in the worship of Him that will develop after His mighty resurrection and glorious ascension that His disciples will feel convicted by their own sin. When we follow the light, we see our shadows. When we walk in the footsteps of He Who is utterly clean, without sin, we see how much we need cleansing to truly walk in the law of the Lord. And so Jesus gave this teaching which was remembered by the young Church and preached about for decades before it was written down by S. Matthew, “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brothers, and then come and offer your gift.”
Certainly this is a teaching to us. Every Sunday, week by week, we offer our gift at the altar: we offer and present unto God our selves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice unto God, Who did the same for us on the Cross. And so in our life within the Liturgy if we remember moments when we have been angry—not righteously indignant, for that is another matter and not sinful—rather, that we at some point let our anger go, to make ourselves feel better at the expense of another person (for that is the sin); if we in offering ourselves to God as gift remember that we have derided another person and treated that person in a less than dignified manner, insulting to honor owed them; and if we have name-called another person, either to their face or to the television or radio or smart-phone—Jesus has given us spiritual direction about what to do: first, be reconciled to the person.
But, it bears asking, how? How shall we be reconciled to another person. And here let us see how important it is to remember the words of our Collect today: “because, through the weakness of our mortal nature, we can do no good thing without Thee, grant us to the help of Thy grace.” In other words, we are not able to reconcile with our brother or sister on our own. We can do no good thing on our own. Rather, all we can do that is good comes through the grace of God empowering us by the peace of Christ.
Brother and sisters, whenever we feel wronged by another person, flee to Christ and ask Him by prayer for help. And to be more specific, ask Him in your prayer for help to pray for the person who you feel wronged by. Often our anger comes from an unresolved issue in our past—unresolved because we have not allowed God into the hurt, into the pain, into the embarrassment, into the wound. But the peace of Christ brings health to our wounds—this is what “salvation” means. When we let God into our pain, and being very honest with Him about exactly how we feel—God responds with His grace, and then and only then does the wound begin to heal. We must listen to the pricks of our conscience reminding us of persons we harbor anger towards—because in praying for people towards whom we are angry, we love them. And by loving them, we are loving God; for God always looks upon that which He has made with love that passes all our understanding.