Trinity 6 – A Higher Way than Wrath

The First Mourning (Cain and Abel), William-Adolphe Boughereau, 1888
The First Mourning (Cain and Abel), William-Adolphe Boughereau, 1888

Romans 6:3-11       St Matthew 5:20-26


You have heard that it was said by them of old time, You shall not kill; and whoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgement.  But I say to you, That whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement.  [Matt 5:21-22]


In this early part of Trinity season our readings are leading us to reflect on the basic passions of the soul identified by the early Church Fathers from Scripture and from their experience of confronting the inner world of our confused souls.

One of the principle passions of the soul is anger.  It is something we all experience daily, probably many times.

Anger is addressed by God throughout the Bible.

In the very first story after Adam and Eve are banished from the garden of Eden we read of anger in their first children.  Cain is envious of his brother Abel’s sacrifice, and becomes angry.  God warns Cain to master his anger because it is pushing him towards sin.  Cain doesn’t listen and kills his brother.  Anger can have deadly consequences.

The passion of wrath can be the end result when any one of the passions of our soul overwhelm us.  In the 6th chapter of Genesis [6:5,11], God describes the situation before the flood:

The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually…  Now the earth was corrupt in God's sight, and the earth was filled with violence.

This propensity towards violence was not undone after the Flood nor even after with the establishment of the New Covenant in Christ’s blood.  St James [4:1f] describes the situation in the churches to which he was writing even after the death and resurrection of Jesus:

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel.

Every passion of the soul, left unchecked, can lead to wrath: if the appetites, are unchecked, it can lead to murder; if pride is left unchecked, it can lead to envy and hatred, which can lead to wrath.

But of course it is not wrong for anger itself to arise in our soul, but how we respond to it.  The passions are not something to be rid of, but to be perfected.  God has given us the response of anger so that we may love more perfectly.  Jesus got angry.

Jesus was angry with the Scribes and Pharisees calling them a brood of vipers! – because they were taking on the role of teacher but having no real knowledge of the spiritual ascent [e.g. Matt 13:22-34].  Jesus was angry with their hardness of heart when they would fault him for healing a sick man on the Sabbath – he revealed their hypocrisy and healed the man in front of them [e.g. Mk 3:5].  Jesus he was angry with the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem – he explained why, My house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves! He made a whip of cords and drove the money-changers from the Temple. [Lk 19:45-48]  Jesus spoke many parables which describe the anger of God, which is an expression of his love, at real injustices.

We should get angry at injustices, it should inspire us to action to resolve the injustice.  If we never get angry, we have not matured in our faith – maybe we are repressing it wrongly, maybe we are slothful – acquiescing to injustice or to moral failing. [Sayers in her commentary on Dante's Purgatorio]  If we are not angry with what happened on October 7 there is something wrong with our soul.  On the other hand, if we are angry all the time and live in a dark cloud of hate, we have also not matured in our faith.

In this broken world, we all should be experiencing anger at some point every day.  We want to be able to respond rightly to it when it comes upon us, neither burying it, nor responding excessively to it.  Jesus calls us to be perfect, even as our heavenly Father is perfect. [Mt 5:48]


In the Gospel this morning, Jesus warns us about unrighteous anger and suggests an action to take when it comes upon us.  Jesus says,

Whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgement: and whoever shall say to his brother, ‘Raca,’ shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.  [KJV] [Matthew 5:22]

St Augustine describes this as three degrees of unrighteous anger manifesting itself.  The first is when we hold the anger inwardly.  The second is when we hold the anger and utter some indistinct sound to express our disdain or contempt.  The third level, is when we hold the anger and express outwardly some censure of the person. [Augustine’s commentary gathered by Thomas Aquinas in the Catena Aurea]  They are signs of anger hidden in our hearts and progressively expressed outwardly.  We are warned in the strongest of terms by Jesus to deal with this anger quickly or we are in danger of the fire of hell!

Jesus continues in his Sermon,

So 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 brother, and then come and offer your gift.  [Mt 5:23-26]

Jesus wants us to resolve the tensions that arise in any community – not to bury them under the carpet but to address them.

Daniëlle and I have been taking an online course on Effective Trauma Care, from the Seattle School of Theology and Psychology.  The lecturer reminded us that people often don’t even realize that they are holding some deep inner anger.  One suggestion in counselling is to note when someone expresses contempt in the conversation.  Behind contempt of others or of oneself is often anger and grief because a person has been shamed or feels guilt.  If contempt, resentment, hatred, cynicism are being expressed by us on the surface, they are signs that buried anger is undermining us.  It needs to be dealt with because it is taking away our freedom to love, our freedom to live more fully in God.

So what if I am angry with someone?  Reflect carefully on why you are angry – don’t just simmer in a state of unthinking rage.  Is it really an injustice committed, or is it related to envy, as it was for the Scribes and Pharisees, anger without a cause?  If our vanity is the cause, we confess it, and humble ourselves.  If it is clearly an injustice, then seek to resolve the injustice by speaking with the person (if it is possible, and doesn’t put you at further risk of harm).  Jesus suggests later in Matthew’s gospel of a way of dealing progressively with an offense against you in the church context if it is not heard – first speaking one on one, then if not heard, with another witness, and if not heard, with the whole community [see Mt 18:15-18].  If you have not been heard, then at least you have made an attempt to clear the air.  In cases of serious injustice, you might want/need to seek justice in the courts.  The judicial system can help in preventing further injustices and potentially bring about penitence in an offender.

In the end, we must realize that we will not always get satisfaction for the wrongs done against us, but there is a higher way.


In the Old Testament, when the earth was filled with violence, God sent a flood to cleanse the earth.  Paul reminds us of a way that has been opened for us in the New Covenant.  It is about another flood, which that first flood pointed to:

Do you not know, that all of us as who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.  [Rom 6:3-11]

Nursing a hatred inwardly is an activity of the old Adam in our souls.  The kingdom of heaven is not found there.  Instead of inner rage, we are to recall the waters of baptism in which that old man, that fallen way of reacting to every injustice done to us, has been drowned and by which our souls were restored and new life has begun once again to flow into us.  If we cannot receive justice for a harm done to us, the higher way is the way shown us by Jesus Christ, the way of forgiveness.  This is something not possible for us, except as we align our souls with the risen Jesus Christ.

Be angry, says St Paul, but do not sin: let not the sun go down on your wrath [Eph 4:26].  Deal with it quickly.  St James says, Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man does not work the righteousness of God. [Jam 1:19-20]

We should be angry at injustices in our midst.  As our souls grow in love, we will be as angry at real injustices against our neighbours as we are at injustices against ourselves.  We will have more courage to speak up and to take action.  And St Paul says we are to judge angels! fighting against principalities and powers of wickedness that we see manifesting themselves as injustices in societies and in the Church. [1 Cor 6:3; Eph 6:12]  With generous and humble hearts, transformed by grace, our anger will motivate us to fight for what is right and for what is true, for justice mingled with mercy – and our hearts will be absent of hatred, of contempt, of resentment, of cynicism.

God has such great things in store for us if all our spiritedness, including our anger, is placed in the service not of hatred but of love.

Let us prepare ourselves now in our liturgy through a meditation on Jesus Christ on the Cross.  Here we can die with Him, ask to be forgiven our sins, ask for the grace to be forgive those who have hurt us, that we might rise anew with Him, receiving His risen life.

Amen +

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