One man's view of theology, sports, politics, and whatever else in life that happens to interest me. A little bit about me.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The New F-Word?

This will be the first in a series of articles about verses that I think have been misapplied down through the years.

Misunderstood Verses #1

Matthew 5:22: And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.

For most of my life, I've heard this verse explained to mean that Jesus does not want us to use the word "fool" to describe someone. I suppose that's not the best thing to say to a person, but I believe Jesus had a much deeper and more profound message than just that. If you think Jesus was adding another four-letter word to the list that nice people don't say, then you are missing the point.

I'm told the Aramaic (the dialect of Hebrew spoken in Palestine during Jesus' time) word "raca" means "empty-headed." Seems to me that's not much different than "fool." But you could be brought to the council for saying one and not the other. Why bring someone who uses one insult before the council and not another? The logical assumption is that "raca" was a profanity in Jesus' day.

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Every society has profanities - words, gestures, etc. They vary from culture to culture. My dad served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the Marines. He never did and still doesn't talk about very much of what he experienced there, but one thing I remember him talking about was the fact that an innocent-looking (to Americans) "come here" gesture was a vile profanity in Vietnam. One of the things they trained foreign soldiers before they arrived in Vietnam was to not use that particular gesture.

Profanities are a part of the human experience. Whether that's a good or bad thing, I'm not quite sure, but the fact remains every society has them. In Jesus' day, one of the worst things you could say was "raca." It was apparently so bad that even saying it in public would get you sent before the religious authorities. The religious authorities in Jesus' day had limited but real power. They couldn't criminally punish, but they could embarrass people in front of the community in a way that kept most people in line with Jewish customs.

What kind of words are so bad that Jesus would say they are worse than cuss words? Very simple: words that hurt and leave a lasting impression on their victims. It might not be pleasant, but think back: every one of us can remember something someone said that cut us to the core like a knife. Maybe it was a classmate or group of classmates at school. Maybe a coworker or a boss. Sadly for some folks it might be something a teacher or even their parents said. I could be wrong, but I'd be willing to guess the person who said memorably hurtful things to you didn't use a string of four-letter words. Even if they did, it wasn't the cuss words that hurt you nearly as much as what they were saying beyond those words.

This, I believe, is the point Jesus was making here. The religious authorities of Jesus' day (and lots of people today) thought saying swear words was the worst sin you could commit with your mouth. As long as they didn't say those words, they thought they were doing pretty good. But Jesus said real sin goes a lot deeper than that. Words spoken in anger, pride and condescension can do lasting damage to people, regardless of whether there are cuss words thrown in or not.

I'm not saying you ought to go around cussing a blue streak. Jesus didn't say the council was wrong for punishing people who swore. What Jesus was warning against was the attitude that says as long as I'm not saying the words on somebody's naughty list then whatever I want to say is fine. It's not fine. Paul said that our words should "impart grace" to those who hear them. That should be the ideal that you and I should strive for: to be the kind of people whose words bring encouragement and grace to others.

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