On Being Angry with Your Brother

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.

Examination of Conscience and the Capital Sins

True contrition requires an examination of conscience. But how does one make this examination? It is as simple as beginning with this: Think of yourself as God’s child and of the loss which results from being separated from your loving Father. Do not be in a hurry, and do not vex yourself because you cannot remember everything. Be honest with God and with yourself; this is all God asks of you. Write down briefly what you remember of your sins. Do not try to depend on memory. Do not fret about your sins. Remember, you are trying to recall them in order that you may be forgiven, not that you may be condemned. “A broken and contrite heart, O Lord, shall thou not despise.” Read more “Examination of Conscience and the Capital Sins”

Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Third Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017.

As I spoke last Sunday, there are seven sayings by Jesus from the Cross in the four books by the evangelists. These seven sayings are also called “the Seven Last Words,” and each of these, individually and as a group, have been the subject of much reflection, speculation, and prayer over the course of the nearly two-thousand-year history of the Christian Church.

If we recall the image of Jesus Christ given to us by Jesus Himself—that He is the true Vine—then these Seven Last Words can be thought of as seven “leaves” of the Vine. We can carry the image still further when we remember that a vine, such as grow grapes, are fastened to a structure, even a wooden structure, both so that the vine develops properly and so that its leaves provide shade to the fruits, to the grapes. Indeed our Jesus, the true Vine, was fastened to the wood of the cross, and Christians have been finding shade under His leaves, His Last Words, ever since, even as we are in this season of Lent.

The second of His Last Words was recorded by Saint Luke in the twenty-third chapter of his Gospel. Jesus was crucified with two criminals, one on His right and one on His left. When one of the criminals confessed his faith in Christ and asked Jesus to remember him, Jesus said: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Can we imagine the shelter this provided the criminal? Can we fathom how this quenched the criminal’s thirst? As I imagine this moment, I see Jesus looking directly at the criminal—looking at him with the most loving, comforting, and penetrating eyes—Jesus’ eyes looking directly at the criminal, so directly as to be felt deep in the soul. Jesus would have had to turn His head, stretch His neck, something like would have caused Him still more pain. Jesus looked with His divine eyes revealing His divine heart—a heart that has loved this criminal already, and so promptly responds with a tremendous promise: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Not you might be with me; not, “You will be with me if . . .” Nor is it that the criminal will be with the angels, or with other souls—undoubtedly the case, but the promise by Jesus is that in Paradise the most immediate presence will be that of Jesus Himself. Read more “Homily: “On Forgiveness, part two””

Homily: “On Responding to Sin”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (the Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time) Year A, 2017.

It is always worth remembering that the Gospel of St Matthew was written around fifty years after the death of Jesus on the Cross. This writing down happened after what must have been a robust oral tradition of passing down the sayings of Jesus within the community of Apostles and close disciples. In fact biblical scholars today continue to postulate the existence of a written collection of the sayings of Jesus available to Saint Matthew as well as Saint Luke as a source for the composition of their respective Gospels. This source, of which there is no actual record but is a theory supported by a consensus of mainstream New Testament scholars, is called “Q,” which is short for quelle, a German word meaning “source.” So according to the mainstream theory held widely by scholars, it was both Q and the Gospel of Saint Mark that were used to craft Saint Matthew’s Gospel.

While the theories of biblical scholars can often make for fascinating reading, what is notable for our use as a worshiping family is that Saint Matthew’s Gospel is not a documentary, straight rendering of the words of Jesus as He actually said them in real time, but the result of an oral tradition filtered by prayer. We are to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, as always authoritative and definitive to be sure, but not as if we are hearing the written transcript of an audio recording, but as fruits given to us by the very first Christians, many of whom knew Jesus in the flesh, and all of whom knew Him as He lived and moved and had His being as the Risen and Glorified Lord within the life of His Body, the Church. The biblical accounts in the New Testament crystallize in literary form the experience of the living Church—and the Bible’s purpose within a worshiping community is to feed, inspire and articulate this experience.

The notion that one person can read the Bible as an individual, even an individual with many gifts, and from that solitary experience of reading the Bible live an upright and holy life within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church is very mistaken. Bible reading can only be attempted from within the fellowship of the living Church, which includes its theological tradition, its liturgical worship and its spiritual guidance. The Bible did not create the Church, but rather the Church created the Bible in order to feed, inspire and articulate the experience of being incorporated by Baptism into the Sacred Humanity of Jesus Christ—and in the Bible is subtlety, difficulty, and mystery. Anyone who says otherwise is trying to sell you something.

What, then, are we to make of what we hear today? First, our Lord teaches about anger—while there is such a thing as righteous indignation, here Jesus is talking about the Capital Sin of Anger, the sin of denying the need for harmony with other creatures. Anger, besides being a sin, is a distraction, it impedes or prevents our ability to hear Christ, and certainly our ability to recognize Christ in the person with whom we are angry.

That leads directly into His teaching that we should not bring our gift to the Altar if we are unreconciled with someone. And here the fact that this teaching was filtered through the oral tradition of the worshipping community is central, because this passage directly defies normal emotional experience. Unless we hear this teaching through the lens of prayer, we will misunderstand Jesus’ command as seeming to say that reconciliation with the person must be complete and over before anyone can receive communion. But we all know that is not how reconciliation works—it is not a transaction but a process, and a process that can take years if not decades.

The important subtlety here is not to complete a transaction but to begin a process of reconciliation. That process begins by asking God in prayer for help, and the process continues by being able to pray for this person. When we pray for a person we affirm, perhaps despite our emotional inclinations, that God is active in your life, and He is active in the life of that other person who has something against you. This is hard to recognize when this other person has hurt or wounded us, yet until we able to name this person in prayer, we have not begun the process of reconciliation. And it is beginning the process of reconciliation that Jesus demands of us before we receive Communion. We practice this process of reconciliation—of seeing in another person Jesus Christ—when we exchange the peace. Actively experiencing what it is like to try to recognize in another person Jesus Christ is the sole purpose of the exchange of the peace.

So all of that is a difficult passage, and yet there are more in our Gospel today. We hear that lust is equivalent to adultery; that eyes should be plucked out if they cause sin; same with a sin-causing right hand. Brothers and sisters, hear in these sentences Jesus Christ having a divine sense of humor. He makes demands upon us, yet He gives us maximum aid and support in times of hardship. Let the demands of these difficult passages be soothed with the image of Jesus saying them within something of a wry smile, perhaps a dry, provocative humor. We will not make spiritual progress—that it, we will not pray better nor commit fewer sins—if we have a habitual state of imaginative lust. Take custody of the eyes, Jesus is commanding. Pluck it out, take it away, look somewhere else. And if your hands constantly are the tools for sin—for stealing, for writing sinful thoughts, for hitting someone, for knowingly misguiding people—cut them off, take it away, take custody of your hands. Recognize that Jesus intends them to be His hands, His eyes.

Being mature about our tendencies to sin with our eyes, our hands, our thoughts is how we bear our cross. Being sober and honest about how we have been wounded or hurt by other people is how we bear our cross. So let us keep our true end in sight, and let us always know that the Lord is mighty in power and sees everything; His eyes are on those that fear Him, and He knows every deed we do. He knows that in our weakness we can do nothing good without Him. Let us put our trust in Him, for He is our strength and redeemer.