Settling Accounts

In Matthew’s gospel (5: 20-26) this week Jesus comments on the Commandment which introduces us to concepts that define proper relationships with other people.  His interpretation can be divided into two parts – application of the commandment to everyday affairs and, secondly, settling accounts before any sin against the commandment gets out of hand.

Jesus applied the commandment “Thou shalt not kill” to the everyday judgments and insults that people make and the anger that they can harbour for one another. To modern Westerners, the insult “Raca” (meaning “empty-headed”) and “fool” might not seem especially derogatory, but the gospel indicates that in the time of Jesus they had that possibility. “Fool” meant “godless” (Psalm 14:1).  The Greek word “Raca” (from the Aramaic term reqa) could refer to renegades and was used to call someone mentally inferior and worthless as a person.  It was an offensive name used to show utter contempt for another person.  Jesus warned that the use of such a word to describe someone was tantamount to destroying that person and was deserving of the severest punishment of the law.

Matthew’s gospel used extreme language to make the point that insults are judgments and can be given to maximise shame. The one who was the object of the insult became the victim.   How could one repair the damage of the insult? Jesus used the image of the debtor prison to make His point. Act quickly to minimise the damage, otherwise the damage will fester and grow. In the end, the shame might return to the one giving the insult.

People do make judgments against others, often behind their backs. And sometimes insults can be given under the guise of “teasing”, particularly in social gatherings where, at worst, the teaser might obtain some self-satisfaction (usually hoping for third party approval) at the expense of the teased. The results can be hurtful, even damaging and sometimes we might never know how the other person may be feeling as a result of our injudicious words!

Let us reflect… How do we tease others or make judgments about them? How have we followed the advice of Jesus and apologised quickly when damage is done?


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