The eighth step of the 12-step program reads, “Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.” Jesus said to his hearers, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus’ first example of this righteousness is evidenced in his reinterpretation of the sixth commandment, “You shall not murder.” But I say unto you, “Everyone who is angry with his brother or sister is liable to judgment.” Murder is an outward action, anger is an inner motivation. Murder takes life from another, anger takes life from both you and the person you are angry with. Matthew uses the Greek word orgē which refers to long-lived, brooding anger. In other words, you are saying to the other person, “You are dead to me.” Retained anger is a decision to carry a grudge and withhold forgiveness. As murder eliminates second chances, so does anger eliminate an opportunity for reconciliation.
Jesus explains that how we use our words indicates the depth of our anger. He cites two words: raka, “idiot,” which is a term of contempt, and mores, “stupid,” to describe someone who is a fool, a person without sense. Each attacks the other person’s character and reputation. The intent is to kill someone in the eyes of others. Then Jesus digs deeper into the sixth commandment telling us when we are offering our gifts at the altar and remember we have a brother or sister who has something against us, we should leave our gift and go be reconciled to our brother or sister. Jesus inverts the sequence. Go and deal with the thing causing your anger first, then come and bring your sin offering to the Lord.
Step 9 reads “Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” In addition, Romans 12:18 tells us to make peace with others when possible. Making amends acknowledges the grudges or root of bitterness within regardless of whose fault it is. Finally, Jesus warns us to make peace with others quickly, or else pay the price of procrastination, because the longer we delay making amends, the more difficult it is to act on them, and we become a prisoner of our own bitterness.
What’s our responsibility?