Summary: Jesus believed in hate crimes, because God knows the heart. Jesus urges us to resolve our murderous thoughts, make it right when we can, and settle out of court, all so that a watching world will take note of how Christian brothers and sisters get along.
The FBI defines a hate crime as a “criminal offense against a person or property, motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity.” A hate crime is not the same as hate speech, which is also illegal, although often battled by free speech proponents. Hate crime laws and hate speech look at the heart of a person’s motivation to hurt another person. And they are sometimes difficult to convict, because who knows the heart of another person? God does, that’s who.
In today’s passage, Jesus ties our hateful speech to murder of the mind. It’s all part of his famous Sermon on the Mount. He begins to address six areas of life, contrasting what the rabbis had taught—basically the letter of the law—with God’s original intent, what we might call the spirit of the law. God is not after some legalistic obedience. He doesn’t want a look-good-on-the-outside Christian; he wants an inner transformation. God wants nothing less than your heart.
And the first of Jesus’ six areas of life is anger. You’ve probably heard someone say, “I’m not a bad person; after all, I’ve never killed anyone.” But Jesus says anger can turn into mental murder so quickly that we have effectively killed with our emotions and words. Ambrose Bierce once said, “Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” Or consider the wisdom of Will Rogers: “People who fly into a rage always make a bad landing.”
But with God’s help, we can stop the hate, especially among fellow Christians, as a watching world takes note. I’ve tried to organize Jesus’ teaching into the three lessons on your outline: First, he says to...
1. Resolve those murderous thoughts (vv. 21-22)
Look at Jesus’ words in verses 21 and 22. He says,
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 court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
When Jesus quotes the sixth commandment from Exodus 20:13, he uses a Greek word that means “premeditated murder,” just like the original Hebrew. The penalty was death. It was a capital offense. But Jesus goes a step further and says our anger directed towards a fellow Christian, a “brother or sister” in the faith, ALSO makes us liable for judgment. Apparently, unresolved anger is very serious!
So let’s lighten the mood and learn some cuss words in another language. (Isn’t that always fun?) “Raca” is Aramaic for “empty-headed.” It sounds pretty vicious, doesn’t it? And the word for “fool” is moros in the Greek, from which we get the word “moron.” Jewish people appreciated the power of words. “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will...break my heart!” That’s the truth!
Jesus says if you use some of these words in anger, your soul is in danger of hell. The word he uses for hell is “Gehenna,” which was an actual place. It was a ravine on the west side of Jerusalem, just outside the city gates, where a couple of evil Israelite kings had allowed human sacrifices back in the day (2 Chr. 28:3; 33). Later King Josiah desecrated the area (2Ki 23:10; see Jer. 7:31–32; 19:6). By Jesus’ time, the Jews had turned it into a garbage dump where fires continually burned. It became symbolic of the eternal fires of hell.
So, what’s the bottom line? Jesus traces anger back to its source: the condition of our heart. Murder first begins with a murderous attitude, desiring to harm another. When you’re angry, step back and ask yourself “why.” Why am I angry? And work on resolving it before it turns ugly. Jesus considers the intent as dangerous as the act. So watch out for those thoughts! And then,
2. Make it right when you can (vv. 23-24)
Jesus illustrates with a couple of stories how seriously we need to resolve anger in our relationships. You know, we do all kinds of things to deal with our anger. We count to 10, or count backwards from 100 by 7s. (Can you do that?) We practice breathing techniques. I heard about one couple discussing anger in their marriage. The husband said to his wife, “When I get mad at you, you never fight back. How do you control your anger so well?” She replied, “Well, I just clean the toilet.” He said, “How does that help?” And she said, “I use your toothbrush.”