How many sayings can you think of that you have heard all your life and if you talked to parents or grandparents they would tell you that they have heard them all of theirs? We tend to think that if something has been said for a long time it must be true. But, Jesus didn’t buy that notion at all. In His great Sermon on the Mount when he made the declaration that unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees we won’t even enter the kingdom it likely confused the whole crowd since they thought these two groups were the essence of great faith. But Jesus immediately began laying out for them how they were to exceed these religious leaders. With each point he made he started with, “You have heard that it was said to people long ago.” Many of the statements he followed with were commands from the Old Law or even the Ten Commandments but it was usually something they added to it or some interpretation they had given to the command that Jesus would correct by saying, “But I tell you”
The first one was, “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.”
The saying that one should not commit murder is certainly a good one. It doesn’t seem bad to say that one who does so will face judgment. What then was wrong with their understanding on the whole command? It was that they had taken the command very literally and failed to look behind the command to see the heart and attitude that led to the murder. It is awful to murder another person. But if all we see is the evil in the act and don’t deal with the heart that leads to murder we aren’t making any real change in the world. We live in a time when the message of this lesson is desperately needed. When we hear over and over again of someone going into a school, church, theater or some other place and opening fire on the people there who are defenseless it not only breaks our heart, it builds a sense of fear into people. It also causes us to question, what can we do to change things? How can we change the world so that such things don’t occur any more?
Notice, Jesus answer wasn’t to increase the punishment on the one who committed murder. It wasn’t to make stronger laws against murder. It wasn’t even to remove all the different means through which a person can commit murder. Imagine Jesus telling them that since murder is such a problem we need to remove all the big rocks in the area that one might use to hit someone over the head with it.
No, his answer was to drop back behind the murder to look at the things that lead up to murder. It is seldom, if ever the case that one’s first reaction to a supposed wrong is to determine that I am going to get a gun or knife or even a bomb and destroy all those people. It usually starts with anger. Jesus said to be angry at our brother or sister is what leads to murder and so solve the problem while it is still at this point. From angry feelings one usually starts using words that are cutting about the other person. Jesus warned of the danger of calling another person “Raca” which means empty headed, dumb, stupid or some other such word. So he said if you call a brother dumb or something like that you are already in danger from the court. You are likely to be taken to court to defend your actions. If you call someone a fool which means “empty hearted” you are in danger of hell fire. Notice the whole thing leading up to murder starts with anger, leads to calling names and moves to stronger words about the other person when we not only question their intelligence but their heart and character. If one can deal with the problem at any point along the way there is the potential of stopping the murder from happening. But if we wait until the point of murder itself, it becomes very unlikely that we can stop something tragic from taking place.
Notice, Jesus did something else to make this point even stronger for all of us. He pictured a person coming to worship God to make their offering on the altar. There in that setting they think of the fact someone else has something against them. Instead of thinking to ourselves how crazy it is for that person to have something against us or getting frustrated that people don’t leave their judgments to themselves, his answer was to leave your gift at the altar and go first to that person that has something against you and be reconciled to the person then return to offer your sacrifice. Solving disagreements, being reconciled with a person who is angry with us takes precedence over our worship to God. We must be so concerned about our human relationships we will interfere with our worship to solve a problem with another person.
Our response when someone does some horrible crime is to ask ourselves and others, “Why in the world would that person do such a thing?” But it is almost always the case that people around them knew they were angry, frustrated and felt like they were being mistreated by others before any crime took place. Just trying to deal with the crime itself without dropping back behind the crime to deal with the heart and emotions behind it will never bring any kind of solution. Jesus answer is still valid. Cut it off when you feel anger toward another person. Instead of dwelling on the anger and striking out against them with harsh words, look for a way to reconcile with them. Never wait for the other one who is offended to come to you for the reconciliation. Seek them out and make reconciliation a priority in life all the time.
Old Sayings are great if they are right. But it isn’t the age of the saying that matters but the truth that needs to be learned whether old or new.