Jesus said to his disciples: “You have heard that it was said to the ancients: ‘Do not commit murder!’ And, Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the Judgment. But I say to you, everyone who is angry with his brother without cause shall be liable to the Judgment. And whoever says to his brother, Raca, shall be liable to the Sanhedrin; but whoever says, Fool! shall be liable to be thrown into the fire of Hell.” (Matt. 5:21 – 22).
Here Jesus refers to the sixth commandment of the Ten Commandments which says: Do not commit murder (Ex. 20:13). Jesus says that this commandment (law) is broken even if you are only angry with someone. It is so serious that you have to be brought to justice because of it.
It is even worse to call someone “Raca”. “Raca” refers to someone not deserving consideration. For that transgression the guilty party should appear before the Sanhedrin. This institution could impose heavy punishment, except the death penalty.
The word which is translated with “fool” here refers to someone who is straying from the right way by what he believes or does. In this context, saying to someone “You fool” means to condemn him, with the assumption that you know better what is right and what is wrong. There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with someone, but we may not judge. If we do that, says Jesus, we deserve the heaviest punishment imaginable, the fire of hell. We get the same idea in Rom. 1 and 2. Paul gives a very long list of sins. Afterwards he says: Do you suppose, O man, you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? (Rom. 2:3).
God doesn’t only notice the things that we do, but also what we think and say. Jesus points to anger which causes people to suffer unhappiness and grief. He speaks about the fact that we sometimes treat people as if they are worthless, that we scold and insult them, thinking that we are better than them. He speaks about how we often condemn someone because we think that we are right and he is wrong, we insult and slander him because he doesn’t believe as we do. It is not the type of murder that takes a life, but it is “murder” that takes place in the heart. This “murder” is a sin deserving the heaviest punishment.
If I have treated someone badly, that person may be angry with me or feel humiliated. No one likes being insulted. I may then easily say: “It is hís problem.” But Jesus says it is not hís problem, it is mý problem. He elaborates: “So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Matt. 5:23 – 24). “Offering your gift at the altar” refers to a gift offered to ask God’s forgiveness. Jesus says that before we ask for forgiveness, we must first seek peace with the people who were hurt through our anger, contempt, insults and condemnations. We must go and ask them to forgive us. Only then may we go and ask God to forgive us.
We need to stop this ‘murdering’ in which we often partake. As children of God we have no choice in the matter, because we are sinners saved by grace, because Jesus had taken our punishment upon Himself. For our sins He was crucified. He made our problem his own. Now we must accept our neighbour’s problem as our own, especially when we are the cause of his problem.
Lord Jesus, thank you for what You teach us. Help us to glorify You by our obedience. Amen.