March 15th, 2012: The Twenty-Second Day of Lent
March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
~ Matthew 5.21, 22 ~
We have just heard Christ state what he is doing with the Law; he is fulfilling it, making it possible for God and Creation to live properly with one another. This means that the old Law, which people observed by following rules, has been brought to a new level in Christ. People observe this law by living in righteousness with God and each other.
In this next section, Christ will illustrate this in many ways. He will use the phrase, “You have heard it said…But I say to you…” so that he can demonstrate how the old Law worked as opposed to the Law of the Kingdom. The Law of the Kingdom focuses on relationships, not rules.
In this passage, Christ tells us that the old Law forbid murder, intentional killing of another person. Christ “ups the ante” by saying that anyone who carries anger will be subject to the same judgment! Jesus is not telling us that anger should be a capital offense. Rather, he is saying that anger was permissible under the old Law. However, in the Kingdom of Heaven, anger (which can lead to murder) has no place. Jesus shifts the focus from following rules to living in proper relationship.
The word raca is Aramaic; it literally means, “empty one.” In our time, a similar insult would be calling someone an “airhead.” This insult would have been enough to get one called before the legal authorities of the time (the Sanhedrin). But Christ says that calling someone a fool (essentially the same as calling someone raca) could put one’s soul in jeopardy.
Christ makes it clear: The law didn’t intend to expressly forbid murder and leave loopholes for other improper feelings and actions, but that’s what it did. Christ tells his audience to recognize that relationship is important: God will judge based on proper relationship, not proper rule-following. Anger and insults, grudges and put-downs, have no place in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It’s comparatively easy to make it through the day without killing someone. But to make it through the day without harboring anger and bitterness? Without using cutting words to someone’s face or behind their back? Much, much harder. Yet, this is the standard that Christ calls us to. The Kingdom of Heaven throws its doors open for the gentle, the merciful, and the peacemakers, for Christ desires us to be these things. This also means that Christ will give us opportunities to become these things – and with these opportunities will come grace to rise above the challenge.
Lord Christ, You know my heart. You know my struggles with resentment and anger; maybe I haven’t killed anyone, but there have been times when I sure felt like it. Sometimes I get frustrated with others and say things I shouldn’t. You know what a broken person I am, but you have called me to a place so much higher – it seems impossibly high. Please take me there, Lord, with your love and grace. Amen.