Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of Matthew (5: 20-26) in which Jesus tells his disciples to go and be reconciled with anyone they are angry, or have difficulties, with before offering their gift at the altar.Fr Paul says the theme of our reading today: ‘Anyone who is angry with another will answer for it…’The righteousness of the Christian must pass that of even the strict observance of the Jewish Law. The word ‘righteousness’ is a difficult one; it is one that is hardly used in English anymore, except in the unpleasant concept of ‘self-righteous’. In scripture righeousness has two meanings, both involving a sense of rightness or justice. It is used firstly of God, who is ‘righteous’, true, in the sense that God observes his promises; God can be utterly relied on. As for human beings, they too can be ‘righteous’ by committing themselves to God’s ‘righteousness’ through faith in him. So, as an example, Abraham was made ‘righteous’ by faith – he was ‘put right’ with God. A sign of this ‘righteousness’ is loving obedience to the Law given by God through Moses, the response in love to a gift of love. This is the second meaning of righteousness.In light of this, Jesus now gives us six ways in which true righteousness goes beyond that of the Old Testament (and, consequently, beyond that of the Pharisees and their scribes, or lawyers). It is not just slavishly observing every commandment but going beyond it, each in a different way. The first and last of these standards are about love and the practice of love. So the whole teaching is about the fullness of love to God and the neighbour. The first standard is about the opposite of love, namely anger, which we hear about in today’s Gospel. Anger to a brother or sister creates such a painful wound in the Body of Christ that it rules out any sacrifice and prayer. As we hear in today’s Gospel, we must leave our sacrifice at the altar and go and be reconciled with our brother or sister. Fr Paul says this is exactly why the exchange of greetings at the Sign of Peace takes place in the Eucharist. That Peace filters down, hand to hand, from Christ at the altar to the whole congregation and then to those beyond.
Fr Paul notes today’s Gospel Lesson – Lent is a time to overcome our anger with others and allow peace to be part of our lives.