I’ve had a complete set of Barclay’s New Testament Commentaries since around 1985. Over the years I often used them as a reference when studying a NT passage or preparing a preaching. Though I appreciate the rich historical perspective it brings to each passage, as well as its very practical application of the bible to our lives, I have never read all the books from beginning to end. Recently I decided to do that, starting with Matthew, using it as part of my daily prayer.
On page 96, Barclay reflects on the Beatitude: “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Referring to Aristotle’s definition of meekness—“the happy medium between too much or too little anger”—he concludes with a first possible translation of this beatitude: “Blessed is the [person] who is always angry at the right time, and never angry at the wrong time.”
It was the next sentence that stopped me short. “If we ask what the right time and the wrong time are, we may say as a general rule for life that it is never right to be angry for any insult or injury done to ourselves; that is something no Christian must ever resent; but that it is often right to be angry at injuries done to other people.” Whoa! I had to think about that one! I was conflicted.
Whether someone is slighted, insulted unwittingly, treated unjustly, or outright oppressed, most people get angry when that happens to them, don’t they? Isn’t it natural and healthy to feel hurt and angry when treated badly, and NOT to accept abuse?
On the one hand, doesn’t such anger empower a person to move away from an abusive situation or relationship? On the other hand, long held anger withholds forgiveness and fuels resentment—which poisons a relationship and one’s spiritual life, becoming an obstacle to eternal life in Christ.
Jesus, taught: “If you do not forgive others, neither will your Heavenly Father forgive your transgressions.” Jesus’ teaching about anger is a very important lesson in the first 25 verses of Matthew Chapter 5. We cannot be disciples of Jesus if we do not grapple with this teaching and apply it in our life and relationships as Jesus did.
Two persons, who learned and lived this lesson well and have much to teach me, stand out in my mind: Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King. Mandela after having been unjustly imprisoned for 27 years said: “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear. That is why it is such a powerful weapon.”
Dr. M. L. King’s Six Principles of Nonviolence, modeled by Mahatma Gandhi in the nonviolent revolution in India, were based on and derived from Christ’s life and teaching:
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people, not for cowards.
- Build the Beloved Community everywhere you go.
- Attack the forces of evil, not persons doing evil.
- Accept suffering without retaliation for the sake of the just cause.
- Avoid inner violence of the spirit as well as outward physical violence.
- The universe is on the side of justice.
Since reading and praying about the first half of this Beatitude, I am on a spiritual cleansing diet: examining and ridding myself of any “anger at the wrong time,” any resentment toward anyone no matter how far back it goes. And I offer it as an ongoing practice for any of our readers to adopt as needed.
As to being “angry at the right time”—I will save that for another blog…