16 February, Wednesday — There but for the grace of God, go I

Wednesday of Week 6 in Ordinary Time

Jas 1:19-27
Mark 8:22-26

…my dear brothers: be quick to listen but slow to speak and slow to rouse your temper.

I watched the movie ‘SE7EN’ starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt a little over 10 years ago. I thought it was one of the best movies ever (Brendan Fraser’s ‘The Mummy’ is also one of my all time faves, so make what you will of my taste in movies!). The ending of SE7EN was the most jaw-droppingly horrifying plot twist I had encountered thus far, and it also shows why anger (wrath) is such a very deadly sin because of how destructive it can be, and how our anger ends up turning against us. 

We are told to be slow to anger, to think before we speak. This is because anger is usually not helpful when it manifests as a knee jerk reaction. I am sure we have experienced such scenarios before, when we exploded with rage and lashed out. Such lashing out due to rage is often premature and happens because of jumping to conclusions without much proof. We end up wrongly accusing other people, spreading untruths like wildfire, and causing the accused party to be ever more defensive and belligerent in return.

But what if we do have irrefutable evidence of wrongdoing? Can we lash out in anger then? We certainly can; no one can stop us. But raining down bullets and missiles will serve only to drive the other person away or worse, dig in even deeper and defend their own wrongdoing. Ultimately, a show of unbridled anger will end up driving a wedge, and the result is distance instead of reconciliation.  

Today’s reading from James exhorts us to be doers rather than merely hearers of the word of God.  What does this mean in the context of Anger? As I chewed on it, one of the many parenting dos and don’ts came to mind: when your young child is misbehaving, seek to understand where they are coming from instead of yelling at them to comply with your instructions. Calm them down and make them feel safe before explaining why you need them to do what you had asked. Reading them the riot act will not elicit compliance; it will make them hate you, and honestly, how far can you go to force them to obey you? 

Likewise, it is easy to spout and repeat laws, regulations, and doctrine at people who have not done the ‘right’ thing. Lashing out in anger often results in admonishing the person rather than their deed. Is this helpful when we do not know why they have done what they have done, or not done what they ought to have done? Did we take the time to listen, and try to understand them? We may never truly know what they think or feel, but we might get an inkling of what they are facing if we bothered to ask them. Only then can we attempt to address their misdeeds, and hopefully help them reconcile the morality of their actions with the harshness of their realities.

This is in no way a condoning of wrongdoing by accepting it as reality. This is only accepting the fact that people have weaknesses and can face very cruel conditions in life. If we do not encounter any such issues that cause us to sin big time, good for us; but not everyone is so fortunate. This is the opportunity for us to be ‘Doers’ instead of only ‘Hearers’ of the word of God. It is easy to tell someone how they messed up and simply walk away, but no one gains anything from this because all we have accomplished is going through motions, not actually ‘Doing’ anything.

Do we want to live in this way, by hiding behind what we call ‘righteous anger’ and harping about right and wrong just because we wish to follow God’s word and abide by the laws? God’s commandments exist for people, and it would be a mistake to overlook the people when laying down the law. Laws are good because, by and large, they encourage behaviours towards positive outcomes. What is unfortunate is people living and governing by the letter of the law instead of the spirit of the law, giving rise to outlaws and punishments, vigilantes and rewards, feelings of injustice and resentment, all at the cost of human dignity.  

Anger is not wrong in itself. It is how we use it and how it manifests that matters. Like in SE7EN, our wrath, while understandable and justified, could lead us to commit heinous sins too — it is a slippery slope. We need to learn to temper our anger. Do not hurt people any more than necessary. Instead, love one another. Take a moment to reflect on the many times God’s grace has helped us to avoid or come back from sin. Pause and give thanks: “there but for the grace of God go I”. Think about how we can channel that angry energy into something more helpful, more constructive, to help lead someone else back onto the right path and back to God.  

(Today’s OXYGEN by Felicia Zou)

Prayer: Father, help us to never forget your immense love for us, so that we may never lose hope despite all our sins. Help us to be slow to anger and rich in mercy. Help us also to lead others back to You.

Thanksgiving: Father, we thank You for the mercy you have shown us. We thank you for the people who have shown us Your love and led us back to You.  

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