The relationship woes of today's society are too innumerable to even recount. Suffice it to say we have a lot of work to do when it comes to relationships! We cannot seem to commit. There is tension caused by too many distractions and individualize pursuits. The media encourages conflict and break-up. The lack of true depth in relationship created by a "mobile" society and reduced time actually spent "relating" to one another the "good old fashioned way" is just another among many of the issues we face. I don't pretend to be a relationship expert, because I have my own issues which get in the way of developing solid and founded relationships! One thing I do know is that we can glean truth from the Word of God which will help us to develop foundation within relationship - truth which will give us "anchor" and hold us steady when things come into our relationships to distract or divide us.
You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Any person who commits murder will be judged.’ But I tell you, don’t be angry with anyone. If you are angry with others, you will be judged. And if you insult someone, you will be judged by the high court. And if you call someone a fool, you will be in danger of the fire of hell. “So, what if you are offering your gift at the altar and remember that someone has something against you? Leave your gift there and go make peace with that person. Then come and offer your gift. “If anyone wants to take you to court, make friends with them quickly. Try to do that before you get to the court. If you don’t, they might hand you over to the judge. And the judge will hand you over to a guard, who will throw you into jail. I assure you that you will not leave there until you have paid everything you owe. (Matthew 5:21-26 ERV)
The "old standard" was not to murder. Since not many of us rise up in the morning thinking, "Who can I whack today?", I don't think many of us actually realize the gravity of what Jesus was saying here. The standard is still the same as it has always been - but we probably don't think about it much because it is just not one of those principles taught with any frequency. In the Old Testament times, there were actually specific places of sanctuary prepared for those who accidentally took a life - called cities of refuge. There were men set up to act as judges to help differentiate between an accidental death vs. a deliberate death. So, although we don't have these cities anymore, we do have laws which indicate the violation of this standard will result in a certain penalty. The old penalty of a life for a life just doesn't hold fast in many places anymore. So we probably have bent the standard a little, but it still is there in society.
The focus Jesus has in speaking with the crowds on the Mount that day was not so much to focus on "murder", but on the other types of relationship woes which need to be dealt with pretty doggone quickly - anger being one of them, with criticism and hurtful words among the list, not to mention this whole idea of owning someone a debt. Critical words do a great deal to tear down trust and impact the emotional well-being of the other individual in relationship. Say these words long enough and the other party within the relationship will become paralyzed by fear - fear they will never measure up to the standards by which they are being judged. This is the basis of criticism - judgment. We all know what it is like to be judged in a way we never intended for our actions to be judged. We sometimes call this being misunderstood, or wrongly accused. When this happens, what does it do within relationship? It kind of diminishes the value of one or more of the parties within the relationship. It devalues the one being criticized, but it also devalues the one doing the criticism - because it is hard to trust and respect one who will find fault with your every movement.
The other relationship woe he deals with is that of anger - because anger drives wedges between individuals and separates even the closest of friends when it is allowed to fester and brew into a full-fledged issue of resentment and bitterness. When anger gets an inroad into our relationships, we are instructed to not let the sun go down on it - why? That which is buried rots! Hold onto something long enough and it will decay wherever it is held! I like to turn the fruits and veggies the birds manage to get hold of into the soil as they will soon begin to decay beneath the rich soil of the garden bed. When they do, they lend to the soil. The decaying process occurs, giving back to the soil. Now, in relationship, it doesn't work quite the same way. Humans weren't meant to deal with "decaying stuff" in the same way the soil was. We operate in the realm of "getting rid of stuff" which no longer serves any use to us. Look at our bodies, for example. When we take in oxygen, and exchange takes place of oxygen for carbon dioxide. The body takes in the good stuff (oxygen) and gets rid of the bad stuff (carbon dioxide). We take in water and foodstuff, getting the value from what is taken in and then there is waste which is produced which functions to remove what is not useful to the body any longer.
In much the same way, we need to get it through our minds and hearts that anger will happen - it is an emotion we were created with, after all. If it does, we aren't to hold onto it and allow it to decay within us. We are to deal with it. Get rid of it and don't allow it to have a place within the relationship - so our relationships can be strong and solidly anchored. We are to "settle debts" quickly, not just the physical ones, but the emotional and spiritual ones, as well. This means we stay "current" in our relationships and we don't hold things others do which didn't measure up to our expectations over their heads as things which we latch onto every time something doesn't go our way. Relationships are complex, made all the more difficult to manage and muddle through because we each come with our own set of emotions and hang-ups. What we need to bear in mind is the attention we need to spend toward remaining vigilant in these relationships. I think this may be what Jesus is reminding us of in this passage - not becoming so accustomed to the relationship woes that we don't immediately seek to remedy them when they raise their ugly heads! Just sayin!