“Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[c] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
Ever pass by this scripture in Matthew 5:22 and wonder why Jesus makes such a big deal about name calling? In many translations of the bible, this interesting little Aramaic insult is kept in its original form. It was a accusation of contempt towards someone during the time of Christ, and we’re told by historians it meant empty-headed, useless or simply a fool. Jesus wasn’t honing in however on a particular word, as if avoiding R-A-C-A itself was the issue.
Jesus always went for the heart, the secret place of our motivations. He still does.
Jesus taught that murder originates in the heart as hatred. Hatred assumes a moral superiority on the part of the hater which works to validate oppressive and destructive actions against the supposed inferior character. This is why Jesus said it’s impossible to love God and hate your brother. How can you believe you are superior to another sinner and still confess to know the God of grace? Isn’t murder an expression of superiority? I am superior to you, my beliefs, my needs, justify your extinction.
Hatred, like murder, is rooted in pride; an embracing of a false reality in a superior self. It’s the slippery slide that leads us into all sorts of evil. Paul gives us some warnings to help us jump off this slide.
These four words help us unpack hatred, they are helpful and telling synonyms to personally consider. We have all been guilty of experiencing and practicing some of these destructive actions towards one another whether we’ve stopped to process our ultimate motivations or not.
- Malice (bad intentions. maligning malevolently.)
- Guile (astute, artful deception. you’ve thought it through.)
- Slander (character assassination. misleading others to think poorly about another.)
- Envy (resenting jealousy. energized bitterness.)
Jesus warning was towards forgetting our own broken condition as sinners. Let us beware of thinking too highly of ourselves, there is no grace there! The next time we are tempted to aim our words towards the belittling of another, or sowing discord, remember God sees this motivation as attempted murder. The Kingdom, Jesus reminds us, is like a servant that was forgiven insurmountable debts, but then used their freedom to confiscate small debts from others. The merciless person will receive no mercy (Matt 5:7).
To name call is to essentially confess, “I need no grace.” At least that’s the way Jesus sees it.
Name calling is more than playground ‘sticks and stones’ and we know this. In the words of Kierkegaard, when we labeling others, we’re attempting to dismiss them. We want to dismiss their humanity, their value and worth in an attempt to exalt our own. He sees beyond our many justifications to the depths of our hearts, and will not hold this unpunished. Can His warning be any more fierce than the fires of judgment and hell? Cease the posture of a superior judge, there’s room for only One there.
Our hearts are complicated, tricky things. To love is to divest, to lay down, and give yourself for the good of others. This is the love of God towards us which was revealed in Jesus – it cost Him everything to reveal the nature of His love perfectly. When we stop believing the love of God over our own lives, or perhaps because we have never truly entered it, we by nature resort to all sorts of protective measures to secure our own value and worth. We need to rest in our weakness as we embrace God’s acceptance over our lives, not fight to find worth in the dejection of others.
“When people are empty of Christ, a thousand and one other things come and fill them up. Be filled with Christ!” St. Porphyrios
Our unity under Christ is a powerful testimony to the world. It’s a unity not in uniformity, but in self-effacing participation of the Trinity’s own diverse, united celebration of love. We’re not called to be right, but to love. The cold reality is that when we resort to name calling, we self-injure and imprison ourselves in the ugly characteristic of pride. The person(s) we might hope to devalue and bring down to size in the eyes of others, remain often untouched by our attempts. It is the accuser that is accused, the attempted murderer that is sentenced.
The next time we read the warnings of “Raca”… let us take to heart the humility of Christ, who both warns us of the crime of hate, and carried in Himself the excruciating pain of it. Let us enter the love of Christ by participating in it, loving our enemies, and especially those in the household of faith (Gal 6:10).
Christ, who is the Gospel of God, transcends politics, cultures, and worldviews. His Kingdom reigns forever. Spirit help us all to come under your loving reign!