Advancing the Conversation of Jesus
Jesus moves through 6 specific teachings taught by the scribes and Pharisees and then gives his teaching on each one. Each teaching is prefaced by something like “You have heard it said, but I say to you.” The difference is very clear and deeply convicting.
You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing’, shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool’, shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery, cursed garbage pit. Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering. (Matthew 5:21-24)
I don’t think anyone would be against this teaching that a murderer ought to be sent to court for some accountability. Jesus takes the entire matter deeper, saying that murder is not committed simply on the social level between people (externally), but murder goes deeper into the heart (internally).
Jesus says: 1st Degree Murder—Everyone who is angry at another brother. The root of murder is in the heart—anger! Now, you will have anger, but don’t hang on to it and allow it to fester. That will prove to be as destructive as the social act of murder.
2nd Degree Murder—Everyone who calls his brother “good-for-nothing”. The word, Raca, has to do with attacking one’s head, calling him stupid!
3rd Degree Murder—Everyone who calls another a “fool”, this term has to do with contempt for a person’s heart and character. Jesus covers the entire spectrum of anger!
Now listen to what Jesus says: Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar and remember that your brother has something against you. In other words, Jesus says that even the high act of worshipping God must not take precedence over your relationships with others. This is a powerful point! Your relationships with one another is at the heart of God! Jesus sets out the procedure to follow. Leave your offering there—stop your worship or attention toward the Lord. Go to your brother—seek out this offended one. Be reconciled to him—as far as it depends upon you. You may not accomplish full reconciliation in return. Then come and present your offering—now you are ready to face the God of gods.
You may not have murdered someone in society (an outward act), but you are guilty of murder through one or more of the degrees of murder (an inward act). NOW ACT UPON IT. THE JESUS WAY!