Jesus calls us to be holy, each and every one of us. Our life is to be lived with the end goal being our ascent to heaven, to be in union with our Loving God and Father for all eternity, and to assist others to do the same. Jesus provides for us a concrete example of the heights to which we are called to reach: “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna” (5:21-22). Jesus is building on the Torah, the Law or the Teachings, by helping us to realize that we can not only kill with weapons but also inflict dehumanizing damage with our words.
To resist this temptation of inflicting mortal wounds, we need to start participating in a deeper examination of conscience which gets to the roots of our own thoughts, words, and actions. If we are not able to discipline our thoughts, what will follow is undisciplined words, and then undisciplined actions, which can lead to entertaining and embracing the deadly sin of wrath. Wrath is unbridled anger that leads someone away from the capacity to think or behave in a rational manner, such that this individual would no longer acknowledge the dignity of the person they would inflict their wrath upon.
Jesus is helping us to see that we can be free of the temptation of wrath if we recognize the danger and destruction of unleashing words as weapons. He offers us the examples of calling someone, Raqa, meaning something along the lines of an air-head or an idiot, and calling someone a fool. These words directed at another have no other cause than to demean, degrade, and belittle. This language, and worse, has no business coming out of the mouths of a disciple of Christ if we are serious about being one of his followers.
I remember a moment in sixth or seventh grade unleashing a derogatory word or two directed at a classmate. Even though they were loosed in jest, I felt a sinking feeling in my gut after hearing myself say them. God gave me a graced moment to feel, contrition, actual sorrow for the negativity and poison I had unleashed with my words. I remember making a commitment to myself not to speak that way toward another person going forward.
We need to be aware that words have the power to wound or to heal. If we are serious about following Jesus, then a wonderful practice this Lent can be to commit to fasting from gossip and from words that belittle, divide, diminish, or dehumanize and replace them with words that empower, unite, uplift and acknowledge the dignity of others. Even when we disagree with another’s point of view, we can do so by still respecting the person and fostering a posture of dialogue.
May we also commit to going deeper and resisting negative or dehumanizing thoughts. Even when we have defensive musings, resulting from another’s disparaging tone, words, or actions, we need to resist entertaining them. Instead, we can choose to pray for the strength from the Holy Spirit to develop a more mindful disposition that seeks to understand instead of react, to hold each other accountable with respect, and ultimately to love: to will the good of each other.
One of many uplifting conversation with Dr. Sixto and Elena Garcia, September 2013 – photo credit – Jack McKee