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 Sanhedrin. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. ~ Matthew 5:21-22
Ever wonder how Jesus can say that murder and hatred deserve the same punishment? Isn’t one so much worse than the other? What Jesus is pointing out is that the attitude of the heart is the same in both actions.
At the point of creation the Bible says that God made man and woman in his image with great value; each of us, whether we are a Christian or not, are valuable because God made us to be like him. When someone makes the decision to kill another person they are placing themselves in the place of God. It is a defacing of the image of God - saying that the other person is not worthy being in the image of God and the value that God has given them.
Jesus’ statement here affirms that murder is indeed wrong but points out that in the attitude of the heart that we can deface the image of God in another person or diminish their God-given value. This is equally as wrong as murder. “Raca” is a term of reproach, a term of disapproval. It pointed out disgrace and was used as a strong insult to demean a person. Jesus pairs up the word “raca” with “you fool” to illustrate a bitter hatred and demeaning of a persons very being. This type of attitude, even if it is not spoken, is just like murder in that it makes a judgement about the value of another person. Where God has given them great value the attitude of hatred takes that away. Where God has made them in his image the attitude of the heart sees them as useless and disposable.
Jesus wants his audience to realize that God has made people with great value and that we are not to deface his creation and value he has give to people. Who are we to take what God has given? But like murder is a physical choice that one person does not matter so the attitude of our hearts can destroy the value God gives to another person.
On the one hand Jesus’ statement is incredibly good news. Jesus is affirming and protecting the value of his creation. Each of us is so valuable as image bearers of God that Jesus is not okay with people being filled with hatred toward one another. On the other hand this statement is very challenging. Jesus points out that this is not what his people are supposed to be about. His people are not supposed to be destroying the God-given value of others, even if it is this is done silently in their hearts. His people are supposed to be nurturing the God-give value of others.
But as believers we have been made new. Galatians 5:13-26 points out that we have been given a new way of life. We used to be people characterized by our sin nature. That is who we were. Being sinful we naturally were full of hatred and other things that took value away from other people. But because of Jesus we have been made into new people. Remember that God loved you so much, he valued you so highly, that he was not willing to let us stay in sin. Jesus death made it possible for each of us to have a new life and to really live out what it means to be in God’s image – that is living in a relationship with God that is not affected by sin. Being new people we have the Holy Spirit living in us and changing us from people of wrath to people of love. Instead of being characterized by our sin we are characterized by Christ’s love in us. This will result in our loving other people despite their flaws and failures.