Someone has said that one good way to measure the size of a person is by observing the size of the things that make him or her mad. A good question to ask ourselves is: “What makes us angry?” Think about the things that made you mad this past week. What were they? A car that cut into your lane? A rude clerk in a department store? Having to stand in line a little longer than you thought necessary? A phone call that interrupted your evening meal; and that from someone trying to sell you something you did not want? All such things are inconvenient and can be terribly exasperating.
A few weeks ago, on a road in Westchester, a man riding in one car shot to death a man riding in another car. Apparently, the two were total strangers. Police were speculating that the shooting was in response to a driving altercation that may have occurred a few moments earlier. If that is true, it is a clear example of what the early church fathers meant when they called anger one of the seven deadly sins.
So be very careful about the things which you allow to make you angry. And then be doubly careful about the way in which you express that emotion. Outbursts of uncontrolled rage may be understood in the lives of small children but have no rightful place in the lives of adults. Some people seek to justify their explosive anger with the explanation that it blows over very quickly. Perhaps it does. So does a tornado, but it leaves behind a trail of destruction that must be repaired after the storm has passed. That kind of anger is a deadly sin.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said to His disciples: “When a person strikes you on the right cheek, turn and offer him the other.” That is what Jesus taught, and that is how He lived. Even when they spat upon Him, scourged Him, and crucified Him, He did not respond with one angry word. Instead, He prayed for His tormentors, just as He had asked His disciples to do.
Is it unrealistic to expect you and me and others like us to be free of all personal resentment? Perhaps it is, but at least we should know who and what our example it. Personal resentment and Christ likeness are opposing traits of character. The more we have of one, the less we have of the other.
But you may ask what about Jesus’ anger that day in Jerusalem when he forcibly put the merchants and the moneychangers out of the temple area? Jesus had no illusions about the sacredness of that building. That wasn’t what angered Him. In His scale of value, it was the people who were sacred. The temple was there to serve their spiritual needs. But the unbridled greed of a few selfish people was standing in the way of that service. People, with broken hearts and empty lives, had come there in search of help. But all they found was exploitation. That was what made Jesus angry. His love for people would not let Him stand quietly and watch them be abused.
Where is the place for this kind of anger in your life? There are many places. People are not through abusing people, not by a long shot. For example, on the evening news, we see emaciated bodies of the poor throughout the world, and our first response is sympathy. Our second response should be penitence. Not so much that we caused it, as because we haven’t known about it and haven’t cared about it. Our next response should be anger. There is enough surplus food in the world right now to feed those people. But politics, and greed, and indifference are standing in the way. Those problems will be corrected, and those people will be fed, when and if enough people get mad about it.
The teaching and example of Jesus could be summed up like this: In our own personal lives, we should be ready to accept and forgive almost anything. Not that we should be door mats. But neither did Jesus waste His emotional energy resenting every wrong done to Him. He turned the other cheek, and so should we. Buy when another’s face is slapped, when other people get walked on, then it is time to get mad. That is the point at which anger ceases to be a deadly sin and becomes a lively virtue.