Mind your language – Thursday, 10th Week in ordinary time – Matthew 5:20-26
For many, the spiritual life is about the strict avoidance of actions that have been laid down as sinful. Yet the avoidance of sinful actions begins with tackling it at the source of it all and not merely focusing on the act in itself. The late Fr Francis Ripoll, our professor at St Pius X College, the diocesan seminary in Mumbai, would often say, “the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart.” It is the heart that Jesus desires to fix for therein lies God’s Positioning System (GPS) to heaven.
The Sermon on the Mount, as preached by Jesus, is a call to every disciple to choose to be different. The Greek word for ‘different’ would translate as Hagios or ‘holy.’ The Sermon on the Mount is a call to a different way of life, a holy way of life.
Over the next few days, we shall study the six hyper theses (5:21-47). Six times in all, Jesus will use the words, “you have heard it said…but I say to you.” For four hundred years before Christ, the prophetic voice had fallen silent and, in this time, there arose several religious groups who became de facto leaders of the religious faith. The scribes and the Pharisees (5:20) emerged out of such a context.
To the people of Israel, the scribes and the Pharisees were looked up as the preservers and transmitters of the Jewish faith in its orthodoxy. The lay man or woman would consider these groups of religious men as the models of faith. Christ does not see it that way. For him they have not just set the bar of faith and religious teachings low, they have reset the bars of faith to suit their convenience. Hence, he will say, “you have heard it said…” Even more, Christ expects the disciples not to bench mark their spiritual life lower than the religious establishment of his time but to exceed their ‘righteousness.’ This must have come as a shock to the disciples of Jesus who held the Pharisees and scribes in the highest esteem.
Too often, faith is (and conveniently so) measured by the standards of others. We look at the faults of religious men and women of our time and use that as the exit route for lowering our spiritual standards. Christ wants us to strive for the highest standard that should be held and not seek the lowest. The faults of your parish priest are his to bear before the judgment seat of God and not yours to seek as a way to diminish the demands of faith. The six hyper thesis that we will study are a call to ‘more;’ “you have heard it said …but I say to you,” and what Christ asks from us is always more.
The first in the series of what I call, “yeh dil mange more” is the examination of our hearts when it comes to anger. The law of Moses set clear judgments for murder. The original commandment is found in Exodus 20:13 and Deuteronomy 5:17. Yet Jesus challenges us to deal with the problem of evil while it still resides as evil thoughts or feelings in our hearts, before it finds expression in the evil works of our hands or the evil words of our mouths
William Barclay notes that there were two Greek words for anger: thumos, which is a fiery kind of anger that flames up and then dies and orge, which is a smouldering anger, the kind of anger that a person nurtures and keeps alive. It is orge the kind of anger that we deliberately harbour in our hearts over long periods of time, that Jesus condemns here.
Jesus’ concern here is the real damage that we can inflict with words. When you think about it, none of these three behaviours (anger, calling a person “Raca”, or calling a person a fool) constitute murder, per se, but they are precursors of murderous behaviour; the kind of things that cause us to spiral out of control and commit murderous deeds
While children say, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” that is a lie. Words have the capacity to wound us emotionally and spiritually, as surely as a knife has the capacity to wound us physically. Most of us still carry the emotional scars of words that someone said years ago. Jesus’ admonition about words of hate and anger are intended to prevent inflicting real injury. While we might regard words as insignificant, Jesus is warning us that God regards them as highly significant.