In Matthew 5:22 we get introduced to the reason many have said that the Sermon on the Mount pushes an impossible standard. Jesus says that anyone who is angry with his brother falls into danger of judgment. Some old texts say “angry without cause”, but the oldest texts never had that, which means that someone after Matthew tried to mitigate the severity of this commandment. Jesus equates the emotion of anger with murder.
We see a number of problems with this. Is anger never justified? There was a man in a community I once lived in whose wife regularly beat him with a two-by-four. Was the command against anger really the right one for him or anyone experiencing domestic violence?
And anger seems like a natural emotion. Is it really healthy to suppress a natural emotion? Doesn’t this lead to psychological problems? Some say that depression is anger turned inward.
And is it effective at all to forbid emotions? They are what they are. You feel what you feel. One of the least effective things anyone has ever said to me was, “You shouldn’t feel that way.” Right! And what am I supposed to do about the fact that I do feel that way?
Allison deals with attempts throughout history to make this command less severe. In the end, he thinks Jesus’ prohibition of anger has to stand as an absolute statement, though Jesus and Matthew perhaps knew it to be hyperbole.
Allison says some helpful things about this. First, anyone familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures will think of Cain and Abel when someone mentions anger with your brother and murder together. According to Genesis 4:5, Cain was very angry. This led to murder. So murder and anger go together as part of a familiar story. More than you might at first think, Jesus says, “Don’t be like Cain.”
Allison also makes it part of his method that you can’t separate the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew’s whole gospel and the rest of the Bible. So you will find examples of Jesus seeming angry–at the Pharisees in chapter 23, for instance. Elsewhere in scripture you will find advise about how to deal with anger and examples of righteous anger. Jesus has just said in vs. 17 ff. that he did not come to abolish that. So you have to take the whole of scripture into account.
But most of all Allison points us to the illustrations Jesus uses of how to respond to conflict with others. “Leave your gift at the altar. . .and be reconciled” (v. 24). And “agree with your adversary quickly” (v. 25).
“So what the Sermon on the Mount here envisages is not isolated individuals seeking to subdue their passions but disciples going about the often awkward task of trying to right perceived wrongs. . .Anger should. . .be dealt with–by becoming the opportunity for repairing broken relationships. It is when rapport and harmony are established with the objects of anger that anger disappears” (p. 70).