Here we see one of the main problems Jesus had with the religious leaders’ interpretation of the law. It was strictly a matter of outward compliance, while totally ignoring what was going on in the heart.
In this passage, Jesus shows us what this means in terms of murder. He said,
You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ (21)
Many Pharisees and teachers of the law kept this commandment. They never murdered anyone (at least until they had Jesus crucified, anyway). But Jesus told them,
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (22)
Jesus here goes beyond the outward crime of murder to the attitudes of the heart. Basically he says, “So you have never actually killed anyone? Great! But how about within your heart? Have you ever murdered someone in your heart?”
What does that mean, to murder someone in your heart?
What are you doing when you murder someone? You are basically devaluing that person. You are saying, “You have so little value, you are no longer fit to live.”
Well, what are we doing when say to someone, “You idiot! You fool! You (fill in the blank)!”
We are devaluing them in our hearts. Essentially that’s what it means to despise someone. To look upon them as someone of little worth or value. Murder is merely taking this attitude to an extreme. But if we hold on to this attitude in our hearts, it can actually lead to murder. We’ve seen this time and again in our society.
Anger is another problem that Jesus points to here. It is natural for us to get angry. We can’t control when we get angry. It’s an emotion. Something happens, and we get angry.
But we can control what we do with our anger. Do we hold on to it? Do we let it simmer in our hearts. Do we embrace that anger?
Anger undealt with takes us to the next level of murder. We either cut people off from our lives, or we actually take their lives.
And Jesus says that if we do so, we will be liable to God’s judgment, and apart from the grace of God, hell.
How about you? Is there someone in your life that you despise in your heart? That you have devalued? Is there someone that you have cut off because of the anger you hold toward them in your heart? Then in God’s eyes you have murdered them.
John tells us,
Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him. (I John 3:15).
Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness…Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. (I John 2:9,11)
So let us start seeing those around us, even those who have hurt us, as people of value. Because they are. And it was for that reason that Jesus gave his life for them…and us.