MAY THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF MY HEARTS BE ALWAYS ACCEPTABLE IN THY SIGHT OH LORD MY STRENGH AND MY REDEEMER
Words of Insult
"Whosoever shall say to his brother Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." (St. Matthew v. 21)
Here is the first example of the new standard Jesus establishes. He takes the sixth commandment “Thou shalt do no murder” (Exodus 20:13) and provides a new interpretation or meaning to what people understood God meant by this commandment, saying that even anger against another person is forbidden. The bible is clear that anger is forbidden. “Your anger”, said James, “does not produce God’s righteousness” (James 1:20). Jesus goes on to speak of two cases where anger turns into insulting words.
First the person who calls another ‘Raca’ is condemned. ‘Raca’ describes a tone of voice, a tone whose accent is the accent of contempt. To call someone ‘Raca’ was to call them a brainless idiot, a silly fool, an empty-headed blunderer. It was a word used by one who despises another with an arrogant contempt. It is as if Jesus said: ‘The sin of deep-rooted anger is bad but the sin of contempt is worse.’ There is contempt which comes from pride of birth, and snobbery is in truth an ugly thing. There is a contempt which comes from position and from money; and pride in material things is also an ugly thing. Then there is a contempt which comes from knowledge, and of all snobberies intellectual snobbery is the hardest to understand.
Second, there is the person who calls someone a fool. To call someone a fool was not to criticize their mental ability; it was to cast aspersions on their moral character; it was to take their name and reputation from them and brand them as loose-living and immoral.
Jesus insists that the gravest thing of all is to destroy someone’s reputation and to take that person’s good name away. No punishment is too severe for those who tell malicious stories, or the idle gossip which murders people’s reputations. Such conduct, in the most literal sense, is hell-deserving sin.
In the old days, people condemned murder; and truly murder is forever wrong. But not only are your outward actions under judgment; your inner most thoughts are also under scrutiny and the judgment of God. Long lasting anger is bad; contemptuous speaking is worse, and the careless or the malicious talk which destroys a person’s good name is worst of all.
In the coming months we will be subjected to one of the best examples, in today’s society of the contemptuous speaking and the malicious talk that Jesus spoke about; the upcoming Presidential election. In these campaigns it seems the dirtier the campaign you run against your opponent the more likely you are to win the election. This approach assumes that by making your opponent look bad you look good. Jesus is telling us that this is not so. The news media will pounce on every piece of dirt they can find and pronounce the candidate guilt in the court of public opinion. People, adults and children alike see and hear this and can’t help but think that not only is it normal, but it is okay because everybody does it. Our society has forgotten its Christian morals or worse yet set them aside in order to win the prize at the end of the race.
I have experienced contemptuous speaking and the malicious talk in my life just as I suspect you have in yours, when someone puts you down to others to make them self look good or when a clique talks about you behind your back or when someone blames you for something you did not do so they don’t look bad, these are all ways in which someone in today’s world does what Jesus said was the worst; careless or the malicious talk which destroys a person’s good name.
So what recourse do we have? Well the Gospel reading today says “go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother” and “Agree with thine adversary quickly, whiles thou art in the way with him;”. In other words go talk to the one who has spoken against you and do it quickly before the situation gets worse. In an ideal world it would be wonderful if this could always happen. But in reality it does not happen as frequently as it should. Behavioral science tells us that there are two categories of responses people can adopt when faced with conflict – fight or flight. In reality these responses are the extreme ends of a spectrum of responses. These extreme responses can be prevented if we learn to look at and respond to conflict in a biblical way. There are four primary causes of conflict. 1) Some disputes arise because of misunderstandings resulting from poor communication. 2) Differences in values, goals, gifts, calling, priorities, expectations, interests or opinions can also lead to conflict. 3) Competition over limited resources, such as time or money, is a frequent source of disputes in families, churches and businesses. 4) And many conflicts are caused or aggravated by sinful attitudes and habits that lead to sinful words and actions.
The Bible teaches us that we should see conflict neither as an inconvenience nor as an occasion to force our will on others, but rather as an opportunity to demonstrate the love and power of God in our lives. We should look at conflict as an opportunity to glorify God, serve others, and grow to be more like Christ. This perspective may seem naive and impractical at first glance, especially to someone who is presently embroiled in a dispute. However, this view can inspire remarkably practical responses to conflict.
The message given by Jesus and the apostles is resoundingly clear: Whether our conflicts involve minor irritations or major legal issues, God is eager to display his love and power through us as we strive to maintain peace and unity with those around us. Therefore, peacemaking is not an optional activity for a believer. If you have committed your life to Christ, he invites you to draw on his grace and commands you to seek peace with others. Token efforts will not satisfy this command; God wants you to strive earnestly, diligently, and continually to maintain harmonious relationships with those around you. Your dependence on him and obedience to this call will show the power of the gospel and enable you to enjoy the personal peace that God gives to those who faithfully follow him.
In Galatians chapter 5 verses 19 to 22 St. Paul’s wrote – “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious … hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions and envy … But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy and peace”.
And now unto God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost be ascribed all might, majesty, power and dominion as is most justly due this day; world without end. AMEN