I have come across many Christians who feel that righteous anger is justified by Jesus' anger at the moneylenders in the temple ... and that their own anger is equally righteous. I, myself, certainly have struggled with the impulse to nurture my own anger because it is justifiable. "Hey, I'm right! That makes it ok!"
However, this bit of the gospel from Matthew, as examined by George Martin, surely should give us all pause before we give ourselves permission to be angry. Or even to sling around a mild insult.
22 But I say to you: the I is emphatic; Jesus is proclaiming something on his own authority. Not only murderers but also whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment. At issue is consciously harbored anger, not an unbidden and passing emotion. Deliberate anger can lead to murder; by prohibiting anger Jesus eliminates a source of murder. But what about when we think we have cause to be angry? Jesus does not seem to leave room for "righteous anger," which is often really "self-righteous anger," anger we wish to justify. Jesus' condemnation of anger is sweeping and covers whoever is angry. Matthew's first readers would have understood the word brother to mean a member of the church. For Christians to be angry with each other impairs the mission of the church to be the light of the world, which requires behaving in a way that leads others to glorify God (5:14, 16).My review is here of Bringing the Gospel of Matthew to Life by George Martin.
Jesus takes up verbal expressions of anger: and whoever says to his brother, "Raqa" will be answerable to the Sanhedrin. The Aramic word raqa is roughly equivalent to "blockhead" -- an insult, but not the worst thing someone can be called. Those who hurl this insult will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, which was the highest Jewish executive and judicial council. Similarly, whoever says, "You fool," will be liable to fiery Gehenna. The expression you fool is equivalent to raqa, not a worse insult, yet those who call another a fool will end up in fiery Gehenna. Some Jewish writings used Gehenna (the Hinnom Valley on the south and west sides of Jerusalem) as a symbol of punishment in the age to come. Jesus' words might be paraphrased in modern terms as, "A disciple who insults another disciple will be hauled before the Supreme Court in this life and go to hell in the next." Jesus seems to be exaggerating to make the point that abusive speech is a far more serious mater than one might think. (See 7:3-5 for another example of Jesus using exaggeration to make a point.)
For reflection: What is my reaction to Jesus' words about anger and abusive speech?