21 “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.’ 22 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.
23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.
25 “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26 Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26, NIV)
Are you so concerned with the letter of the law, you miss the meaning of the law? It is an age-old problem. Yes, even some of the people Jesus was speaking to on the mountainside suffered from this problem. In today’s passage, Jesus addresses that problem.
In Exodus 20:13, as the sixth commandment, God instructed that “You shall not murder.” But the 10 Commandments are not the be-all-end-all of the instructions God gave to Moses and the Israelites. Indeed, the Books of Moses contain hundreds, if not thousands of different instructions. Despite the thoroughness of these laws, God did not lay out specific instructions for every single aspect of daily life. The laws, however, did build upon each other, so that they all worked together to guide a person in living a life that is pleasing to the Lord.
Over the centuries since Moses had been given the law by the Lord, religious leaders, the Pharisees, have instructed the people on what the law is, its meaning, and how to follow it. And the Pharisees did what many of us are also guilty of doing. They simplified the law. They looked at what the law said, not at the meaning behind the law. They did not study the law. For example, the Pharisees looked at the sixth commandment and told people to not kill others. Jesus, however, goes further. He explains, in a way people can easily understand, that murder does not start and end with killing another person. Murder starts with the condition of your heart. Jesus warns of unrighteous anger and of speaking cruelly about others.
It can start small. A laugh when they mispronounce a word. A smirk when they mess up. It grows into something more. In your heart, you are degrading that person. You are thinking they are not worthy of help, of kindness, of forgiveness, and of mercy. Jesus warns against this mentality. Allowing such thoughts and feelings to fester, allows them to grow so that you no longer see people as a child of God.
If God is willing to offer salvation, forgiveness, mercy, and grace to every person on this earth, should we not be willing to do the same? That is why we are to address any problems that may arise between us immediately. Clear the air! So that something small does not grow into something larger. Earthly courts can only judge our outer actions. God, the final judge, can see into our hearts and determine if we have followed the meaning of His law.
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