Anger and Reconciliation
There are texts in the Bible that are so difficult to understand, much less follow; we just skip over them. This Sunday’s text is one of them. In Matthew 5, Jesus says that if you call someone a “fool,” then it is the same as committing a murder. So I had friends call someone an “idiot” or many other words, but not “fool,” thinking that then they still obeyed Jesus. However, that is really foolish.
The word that is translated as “fool” in English is “Raca” in Aramaic, which means “empty.” This means that that person is empty of the image of God. This was to claim that that person was rejected by God and thus worthless. Some other theologians translated the word “graceless,” thus meaning that God’s grace will not be extended to them. The sin of such theology is creating an idea that some people are accepted by God, and others are not. Usually, this is used to say, “I am accepted by God, and you are not.”
The other problem in the text is the phrase “hellfire.” Without good scholarship, many translate “hell” to mean “eternal damnation,” however, that is a mistake. The word “hell” there is “Gehenna,” which refers to the “fire of the valley of Hinnom.” Hinnom was a valley in the land of Ammonites who worshipped Moloch. In the stories of the Hebrew genocide of Canaanites, they burned children alive as sacrifices at the Hinnom valley, and thereafter, it became synonymous with “hell.” The fire of hell then referred to the fire that was in that place.
Jesus was never referring to “eternal damnation” for those who call someone else a “fool,” but the text was referring to the importance of relating to everyone based on the image of God in them, the same image of God that is in us.
The question of reconciliation is, therefore, not about how to solve a minor spat between friends but the deeper question of how we relate to one another. We are so used to living superficially, only looking at the surface, we often miss what Jesus is calling us to. We are called to see the internal image of God in everyone, not judge people based on their outer actions. We are not judges of others’ behaviors, but we are guardians of everyone’s dignity that comes from creation.
We will not always agree with everyone, but it is important that we do not see our disagreement with others as the absence of God’s image in the other person. Our disagreement is just that, a disagreement, and nothing more. Our relationship with others is based on the presence of God in them, not how they agree with us.
The Christian life is impossible if we misinterpret the Bible by thinking that it is meant to be understood literally, but by searching the true meanings of Jesus through careful scholarship, we will find ways to follow Jesus.