I’ve been reading in Matthew 5, the beginning of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount and a few specific passages have brought a lot of thoughts into my mind. Specifically, the passages on Murder, Revenge, and Love.
21 “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.’ 22 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.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.
Matt. 5:21-26 NIV
This got me thinking and wondering and it brought out my English Major chops and I started analyzing to try to figure out exactly what was being said because I just couldn’t make heads or tails of it. Maybe it’s obvious to you, but it wasn’t to me.
In the first section all I could think at first was “Duh! Jesus, where are you going with this? Of course murder is wrong!” But then, he expanded and I got lost. What was so bad about name calling?
In this context I’m pretty sure that “brother or sister” is more on a spiritual level than it is a biological level, but for the purposes of this article I’m going to say that it means anyone. He touches on two things: anger and name calling.
I don’t know about you, but I would have to be pretty angry to commit murder, premeditated or otherwise. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching murder mysteries with my aunt, it’s that there are three main reasons for murder.
The first two are usually because someone is jealous or greedy. They want something that the other person has, whether that be money or a lover, or some other material possession. Sometimes it’s the idea that person might get something/one that they want/see as valuable. Both are either born of anger or beget anger. When you are jealous of someone and what they have or could end up with you resent them, you are angry at them or at the idea that you are not getting what you feel you deserve and that anger is directed at that person, in this case, enough so to kill them.
Revenge – I don’t know about you, but I don’t know of any kind of revenge where someone wasn’t angry at someone else.
But, I’d never kill someone just because I was angry at them! I’d never let it get that far!
You may say that, but in Christ’s eyes the seeds of murder are just as bad as murder itself. It isn’t wrong to be angry per say, it’s when that anger goes unchecked. We, as humans, have a tendency to let anger stew until it blows like a coke bottle packed with mentos. It can even lead to murder. Harmful thoughts and anger in general should be dealt with immediately lest they lead to something far worse.
What’s so bad about name-calling? This is something that I have to work on a lot, not just name calling, but the feelings it leads to.
Raca, according to biblestudytools.com, is defined as: vain, empty, worthless, only found in Matthew 5:22 . The Jews used it as a word of contempt. It is derived from a root meaning “to spit.”
Calling someone a fool is just as bad as Raca. Both of these terms lead to something much worse than name-calling. Any derogatory name-calling can lead to this.
It’s the view that someone is worthless. When you view a person as worthless it can lead to murder.
Well that escalated quickly!
It’s true! Feeling that someone is worthless may not lead to murder by itself, but if you become angered with that person it can lead to abuse, treating them as anything less than human, and that can lead to murder. Just viewing someone as worthless make it easier to commit acts of harm against them.
Worse, viewing someone as worthless can make them feel worthless. When a person feels worthless they are more susceptible to suicidal thoughts, depression, anger, and trying to make other people feel worthless to try to make themselves feel like they are worth something. All of this can lead to someone dying. It can lead to suicide, murder, or violence in general.
The seeds of murder are just as bad as the act of murder itself. Most people don’t want to agree with that or acknowledge that it’s true. They think that as long as they don’t commit murder they’ll be fine. But even if you don’t commit murder, you never know when you were the pebble that caused the ripple that killed a room full of children or injured/killed 500+ concert goers.
The Golden Rule
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this phrase, people pull it out all the time. As a child I always assumed it meant that if I treated everyone well, then they would treat me well too. But then I heard the other use of the phrase. When people would use it as an excuse for treating other people like crap. “He calls me names and hits me, so I call him names and hit him too because that’s obviously how he wants to be treated.” Conversations like that are always interesting. For years, I’ve struggled for an argument, knowing that wasn’t how the rule was supposed to be interpreted, but unable to articulate these feelings. It’s thinking like this that can lead to viewing another person as worthless, that lets you “justify” your anger. And it can lead to so many horrible things.
I’ve grown to hate the golden rule under this context, what seems to be the most popular interpretation.
In all their rushing about to prove that they are justified, people forget to look at the bigger picture, at what the rule was meant to do. It doesn’t give you license to treat others like crap. I look at it this way.
There is a verse in the Bible that people like to quote a lot. “Do not judge.” Except that isn’t all of the verse.
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2 NIV
Basically, people use the first three words to tell Christians to back off and stop telling them how to live their lives. But they don’t see the rest of the verses which expand upon it. if you judge someone as having done wrong, then later when you do the same thing, or if you have not followed that rule at any point in your life, God will hold your judgement of that person up and that is how you will be judged. The Pharisees of the day used to do this. They wouldn’t follow the law to the letter, using it to their own gain and not the Lord’s, yet they would judge others for not following the law to the letter, as though they were above the law just because of who they were. They would judge the sins of others as though they themselves were sinless. Basically, Jesus was warning people not to behave in such a manner.
The golden rule, is similar in my mind. If you treat others the way they treat you, because “that’s how they obviously want to be treated” then others will look at it and think it is how you want to be treated as well and you will be treated accordingly until everyone is treating everyone else like that. Treat others the way you want to be treated does not mean treat them the way they want to be treated.
An eye for an eye will make the whole world blind, a tooth for a tooth will cause the world to starve. (Or worse, eat bland, mushy, dog food tasting substances for the rest of their natural lives.) I think Ghandi said something like this, or this exactly. I don’t really know.
So What Can We Do?
Jesus commands, in Matthew 5:39-42 that we do not resist evil people by seeking revenge, justifying our anger, and treating them the same way they treat us. He calls us to turn the other cheek.
“If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two.” Matt. 5: 40-41 NIV
He calls us to give more than is demanded of us, to be stubborn. I have a habit of being VERY stubborn, if someone tells me to do something, even if it’s something that I was going to do anyway, I won’t do it. But Jesus calls for the opposite of that. He is calling for us to give more than is demanded, not to retaliate by not doing it. “Do not resist an evil person.” (Matt 5: 39 NIV) This is something that I really need to work on, personally.
In the very next passage he commands us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Anyone who does us wrong, should be loved and not treated with anger for anger is one of the seeds of murder.
“If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even the pagans do that? Matt. 5:46-47 NIV
He commands us to stand out by loving one another. Tax collectors have always been seen as bad people. People we don’t like. But even the people we don’t like love the people who love them. Even the pagans greet others like them, love them, and acknowledge them. Average-everyday, worldly people. But Christians are called above and beyond that. We are called to love everyone, even those that hate and persecute us, and people we don’t like. (This is also something I need to work on.)
We are called to be stubborn in our love and in our forgiveness. This is how we want to be treated, with stubborn love and forgiveness. This is how we foster a culture of peace instead of a culture of murder. By treating everyone, even those who wrong us or whom we don’t like, as though they are worth something and by refusing to give in to the way of the world.