Tied and Fettered by Hatred
I. “One cannot enter into eternity tied and fettered by hatred.”
Most of us have known someone who is eaten up, inside out, with anger. I once met a woman in a retirement home who was consumed with anger. Her story was tear jerking. Her husband left her. Then, her son took to drinking and in the same year died in a motorcycle accident. It was her husband’s fault, she said, and she would never forgive him. So, she spent the remainder of her life bitter and angry.
Who wouldn’t sympathize with this woman? As I listened to her tale, again and again, I couldn’t help but hurt for her. What an experience. Yet, I sometimes felt conflicted. How many years ago was she wronged? However justified she may have been for anger, she had let that anger eat away at her soul. Day by day, through her life, she nursed it. Now she was an old lady, and all she could think about was her anger. The anger shadowed every memory, every sentiment. She had become the anger.
We can never condemn the soul of another person. We don’t know what’s going on in their hearts. We don’t know the end story. But we can look at our own hearts, and see how unforgiving anger eats away at the soul. Holding onto anger is like clinging to a hot coal with the intent to throw it at someone else; you are the one that get’s burned.
II. In the later years of his life, Bishop Anthony Bloom wrote down his thoughts in a series of papers. “The first thing an old person must do,” he said, “is determine not to escape his or her own past; to be ready, when the past emerges in memories…to look squarely at any unresolved problem.” He continues: while preparing for death it is absolutely necessary to “make one’s peace with everyone, with oneself, with one’s conscience, with one’s circumstances, with the present and the past, with events and with people – and indeed with the future, the coming of death itself…One cannot enter into eternity tied and fettered by hatred.”
Whether we are preparing for death or going about our daily tasks at any stage of life, Anthony Bloom’s wisdom applies to all of us. We must look in our hearts for anger and we must do something about it.
III. Our Lord’s words couldn’t be clearer in our Gospel reading today.
“You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “Raca”, you will be liable to the hell of fire. So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:21-24).
There’s no perfect translation of “Raca.” Sometimes, it’s rendered “You Fool,” but that doesn’t quite capture it’s meaning. In Jewish society, “Raca” was used in a very specific way. It expresses utter contempt. It isn’t a mere passing emotion. It’s ingrained hate. This, Christ tells us, endangers us to hell.
But what about just a little anger?
Our Lord responds, “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment.”
This gospel can sound a little harsh, but it isn’t, if you can hear what it is that Christ is saying. Our Savior understands the hearts of men. He isn’t some aloof prophet who just wants people to feel guilty for not being perfect. He is human too, though divine. He feels pain and hurt the way we feel pain and hurt. God knows it isn’t easy to forgive. He knows that hurt hurts, and how easy it is to be angry.
Jesus Christ isn’t condemning us. He is urging us not to condemn ourselves.
IV. C. S. Lewis tells a story of a man who visits heaven.
At heaven’s threshold the man hears several conservations between the nearly arrived and their guardian angels. One in particular stands out. A heavy-set fellow was strutting forward when he stopped dead in his tracks, “What!” the fellow declared. To his great shock, there in heaven was the man he hated most down on earth. “I just can’t believe it!” He stormed. “I can’t believe that type of fellow is in a place like this. Why if he’s here in heaven then I want nothing to do with it. I’m going somewhere where he isn’t.” The man turns around and walks off to hell, because there, at least, he wouldn’t see that type.
This is only fiction, but it gets at something we need to take very seriously. Anger hurts.
An unmonitored campfire can quickly turn into a wildfire and burn a whole forest. A little anger, if unchecked, can burn away at everything precious in the soul. Hell is nothing else but the trajectory that we take here and now, in this life, but extended for eternity.
V. Christ continues, “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Mat. 5:23-24).
St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “Do not let the sun go down on your anger…Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice…Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (4:26, 31).
It’s easy to preach this and far harder to walk it out. But it’s a process, and we have to try.
It always begins with God’s grace. We can’t free ourselves from anger without the sacraments. The Church urges us to come to God to receive His strength. When we take the Eucharist, we carry God inside us. When we come to confession, we reveal our inner wounds to God, and he heals us from within.
But there’s a further solution to anger: stability.
VI. Don’t run away.
“Do not stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten into the habit of doing. Instead, encourage each other, especially as you see the day drawing near" (Hebrews 10:25).
The solution to anger is dealing with it. For many us, the greatest temptation when we’re angry at a person is to simply leave. We want to walk away.
There’s no mystery why St. Paul’s epistles address quarreling and anger again and again. Nearly every letter repeats a dozen times our duty to forgive and love. The reason is, people hurt one another back then just as much as they do today. In fact, a Christian community can be one of the best places to get hurt, because it’s real.
You can keep up superficial relationships in most parts of your life, in your work or your social gatherings. But when you come together, worship together, and break bread together week after week, your facades start crumbling. When you’re with the same people for a long enough time, your brokenness and their brokenness all come to the surface. But that isn’t a problem. On the contrary, that is the solution.
This is why we need Christian community. It is only in community that we learn how to forgive. It is when someone rubs you the wrong way, and instead of running away or distancing, you bring that hurt to our Lord Jesus Christ, that He is able to heal you. It is when you have an opportunity to forgive that you can learn to become forgiving.
VII. “When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:21-24).
This passage sums up the very meaning and purpose of parish life. We are called here together to learn to forgive and love.
I often wonder about that old lady in the retirement home. Where is she now? What goes through her heart? Has she let go? The truth is, the story isn’t over until it’s over. We all have hurt and anger somewhere in our hearts, but God, in His mercy, is very patient with us. If we come to Him, He will turn our anger into love.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.