Yesterday I started looking at the “laws” laid down by Jesus, the new boss, who’s not the same as the old boss. The new Moses, from the Mount of Beatitudes instead of Mt Sinai, daringly overturning the Torah and issuing his own laws by his own authority. Not laws so much to be followed as rules, but laws to move us along His path into the Kingdom of God, laws meant to transform us into Kingdom people with kingdom hearts. As I’ve said before, Jesus almost never condemned the outward actions, He’s always much more interested in the roots from which our fruit, good and bad, grow out of.
The evil twin brothers, anger and contempt, can be found at the root of almost all human evil. Yesterday, we looked specifically at anger, that spontaneous response to someone interfering with our will, which is in itself not inherently bad, but almost always in our response to it becomes evil in our hearts. 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.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Under the old boss, Moses, the rule was simply “Don’t Kill.” Of course, we can “not kill” and carry so much malice and anger in our evil hearts that we can poison our own selves and wind up in our own early grave. We can poison and pollute the atmosphere in which we live by holding onto anger, we can become anger ‘time bombs” just waiting to explode at anything, anyone, anytime. We can even take pride in our righteous anger – “I don’t get mad, I get even”, wearing it as a badge of honor. But Jesus says, no, we don’t get to hang onto anger in our hearts. We will be judged just the same for the anger in our heart as for the bullet in their chest. Because, it is from the anger in the heart that the bullet in the chest grows out of.
But now, let’s look at angers’ even more insidious, more evil twin, contempt. Unlike anger, which comes upon us spontaneously and is only evil as it is cultivated and moved into action and hatred for another, contempt is the “studied degradation of another“. Also unlike anger, contempt is never justifiable or good. So, Jesus tells us – Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘ Raca,’ is answerable to the court. First – ‘Raca’ is an Aramaic term (Jesus spoke Aramaic) which was used in this time specifically to express contempt for another, or to set someone aside as being contemptible. When you hold someone in contempt, you are saying they are “less than”. You are denying their worth. You are robbing them of value. If you angry at someone, in that moment you want to harm them in some way. If you have contempt for someone, you don’t care if that person hurts or not. They are simply not worth your consideration. You can be angry at someone and not deny or demean their worth. But when we hold someone in contempt, it makes it much easier for us to do true harm to them, because in our contempt we’ve set them aside as being contemptible, “less than”.
How do we use the term ‘Raca’ today? How would that be expressed? “Loser”, “stupid”, “idiot”, “jerk”, “nerd”. These would be our gentler labels of contempt, if we are trying to be “nice” ourselves. If we don’t care about playing nice, if all respect is gone, then we go to our full on “curse mode.” Many if us live here everyday. We have an arsenal, a vocabulary with contemptuous terms filled with sexual, racial, and cultural overtones. Other terms which are just personally degrading to the person it’s being hurled at. Seriously, these words should not be in our vocabulary. Jesus Himself says so.
The intent and effect of contempt is to marginalize, to exclude, to isolate. This is why we are so filthy when we express our contempt and why it is so inherently cruel. Yet, some of us are so creative with our contempt, almost bringing cultural refinement to it. We even take pride our creativity of expressing our contempt. We have people who’ve become celebrities and made millions expressing their contempt for others.
We see it in life all the time. Whether at the schoolyard, at work, at a party, even at church or home, someone is put down and left out. It is a constant in our lives. We all live in terror of being on the receiving end of it.
And when someone, or some group, becomes the object of our contempt, they are automatically fair game for even worse treatment. After all, we’ve already determined they have less value, right?
On the opposite end, respect always builds up a wall against contempt. Look at how things work in families where respect is broken down, anger enters and progresses to contempt (which is always expressed in angry outburst and foul language) and sometimes (oftentimes?) progresses to physical abuse. Once contempt is established, the initial anger is fully justified and validated and increases in its force.
Few people can find any good reason why we should not use foul language. We all seem to know instinctively that we shouldn’t, but we just can’t put our finger on the reason. Basically, as a society we simply find contempt for others to be socially acceptable. Foul language and name calling are always an expression of contempt for another. The degradation of our language is just another indicator of the contempt we all seem to have for one another.
This is what we see in some of our random acts of violence which seem to occur more and more. Look at Dylan Roof, the young man who went into an historically black church in South Carolina, expressed a desire to participate in their bible study, then pulled out a gun an started shooting everyone there. Not because he was caught in a fit of rage, but because he held those who were not just like him in contempt. To him, their value had been decreased to the point that killing them just did not matter. And this is an underlying ongoing thing seen in much of the seemingly random violence we’ve seen over the years – not so much out of control anger, but simply an expression of the ever increasing contempt which we all seem to hold each other in.
It doesn’t matter your social status, we all want to belong. Holding others in contempt means that they don’t belong. Look at our culture today. Even at the highest levels (maybe especially at the highest levels) we who claim equality and justice for all not only fully believe and practice contempt for those who aren’t like us, but we fully believe and hold in contempt those who do not hold in contempt the same people we hold in contempt. You don’t hold Muslims in contempt? Well, now there is someone out there who holds you in contempt. You don’t think the gay lifestyle is contemptuous? Maybe you don’t hate church people. Maybe you don’t think Donald Trump is the devil. Maybe you don’t think Barack Obama hates America and wears commie-red underwear. We have so devolved in our “tolerant” society that actually being a tolerant person, not holding others in contempt, will make you a contemptuous person to all. By being the only one not to pick up stones, you force those around you to turn their stones on you. By your living up to the command of Christ here, your light will shine in such a way that it will stand in its own judgement of those around you, and they will turn on you.
In our need to belong, we are almost forced today to define who exactly it is that we hold in contempt. Because at least then, we can belong somewhere.
““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.’ 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.”
Matthew 5:21-22 NIV