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.” 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. ‘Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 5:21-24 (NIV)
In Matthew 5 Jesus turns accepted wisdom on its head, by showing that whatever we do physically has a spiritual dimension to it.
First Jesus takes the topic of murder to reveal that while few will be guilty of the physical act of murder, the motives for murder are deep-rooted within the heart. Jesus turns the argument round by telling his listeners that anger directed against a brother or sister is also a sin in God’s eyes and will lead to judgement. This must have seemed an incredible idea to Jesus’ audience. Keeping of the law ‘Do not murder’ would be seen by most people as being easy to keep. However, not being angry – that was much more demanding. Jesus’ words are designed to make us question what is going on in our hearts. He wants us to see and understand the enormity of our sinful nature.
Jesus then states that anyone using the word ‘Raca’ against a brother or sister is also sinning. ‘Raca’ was a word used as an insult. It meant ’empty headed’, ‘stupid’, ‘idiot’ and would have been used as a derogatory term to demean a person. This links to Jesus’ previous statement, as it links the idea of anger or losing your temper and saying unpleasant things to someone. When I was reading this passage I couldn’t help thinking of someone finding themselves in an abusive relationship, where verbal abuse is used to demean them. Jesus is saying that there is no excuse for abusing another person verbally.
Jesus covers the topic of reconciliation by stating that we should seek resolution of any ongoing problems in our relationships. Interestingly Jesus doesn’t say ‘… if you have something against a brother or sister …’ Rather he says ‘… if your brother or sister has something against you …’ Jesus wants us to consider if we are the root of the problem and, if so, to seek reconciliation. While it is important to bring our gifts to God, it is more important to bring a pure heart to God.
Think about what Jesus is saying. While you may not be guilty of the physical act of murder, have you harboured anger in your heart? Are you guilty of using inappropriate words to demean someone? Is there someone you have hurt that you know you should be reconciled with?
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