“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
This may be one of the least cited verses from Matthew’s account of the “Sermon on the Mount”. It comes shortly after the eight blessings we now refer to as the “Beatitudes”.
In the very previous verse, the part before that big “But…” Jesus says ” “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’”
So, whatever is following that big “But…” in verse 22 is a pretty big deal. We should understand exactly what He was saying to everyone that day, right? Jesus is literally equating whatever He’s talking about there to no less than murder.
Most early English translations of that Aramaic word ‘Raca’ have been something like “stupid” or “idiot”, in a modern paraphrase. That’s an incomplete understanding of that word. Raca doesn’t mean “stupid” or “idiot”. It means “worthless”.
Jesus was teaching those gathered on the hillside that day – and US – that God for sure does hate murder. That’s nothing new because “it was said to the people long ago.” The incredible revelation He came to bring to us all is that God EQUALLY hates when we declare that someone is worthless. To be clear, He’s telling us that devaluing another person is in fact the SAME as committing murder. That’s a sobering thought.
Especially sobering, considering what is written in 1 John 3:14-15: “We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. The one who does not love remains in death. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that eternal life does not reside in a murderer.”
I’ve always been fascinated by the fact that in all the accounts of Jesus’ interactions with people during His time here on earth, the only people He ever had a problem with were the “holier than thou” religious leaders of the day. I mean, you almost need to have popcorn on hand to fully appreciate the dramatic tongue lashing He delivers to them in Matthew 23!
Throughout all of His documented ministry, He walked out a life of “in your face” radical love. He would saunter right up to the outcast, the marginalized, the “unclean” and embrace them with love, grace, mercy and healing. He declared with both His words and His deeds that WE ALL have value… equal value, precious value.
For these revolutionary acts of love, grace and mercy in defiance of the religious institution of His day He was, Himself, murdered. He was murdered for valuing people. That poignant irony is not lost on me.
He purchased for us the freedom to wield a radically brave love – even if it’s in the face of our own religious institutions in our day.
Let’s not waste the opportunity.