“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.
I think I have used the word “idiot” more in the last month than I did in the last 10 years combined.
It’s hard in these times to not see people acting in some way or hear their statements on TV or Twitter and not give such a response.
Depending on your translation, Jesus had some instructions and commentary on how to use the word “idiot” appropriately: don’t.
The context of the instruction is excellent. It brings name-calling and anger and judgement right to the focus of what it really is.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in The Cost of Discipleship elaborates on this context and I learned a lot from what he had to say.
When we call someone a fool or an idiot (or any disparaging name for that matter) we are judging them. Not only are we judging them, but we are hiding that judgement behind a word that sounds justified or humorous. That turns the fact that we are judging them into a lie.
A lie that we tell ourselves and our hearers that what we are doing isn’t judging, it’s OK.
When we call someone a fool or an idiot, we are pronouncing a judgement on them that they aren’t at the level we have attained. They aren’t as good as us, as smart as us, and they have no worth that should cause us to like them.
We can’t preach the Gospel to anyone while we are still calling someone else an idiot. If Jesus Christ died for the sins of all who would believe and call on His name, that includes the people that we think have poor judgement. That includes everyone we consider an idiot.
We ourselves are desperate for that, because as we judge others, we are judged, and every one of us is somebody else’s idiot, somehow.
The emphasis Jesus brings to “Raca” amplifies the judgement and hatred. The way you would say that if you spoke Aramaic is that you’d clear your throat real good on the R and then have to spit after you said that name. You might even spit on the person that you just called “Raca.”
Levitical law called for about 14 months wages to be paid to a man if you spit in his face as a fine. It was that dishonorable to spit in a man’s face. To say “Raca” was to imply preparing to spit in a man’s face.
Dishonorable words truly only dishonor the speaker. As we grow in the grace of the Lord Jesus, we’ll address people by those words less and less. Behind our name-calling and hatred is pride and unforgiveness.
As we humble ourselves and actually pray for the idiots we come across, we welcome God’s grace in to transform us all. (See what I did there? It’s a process!)