If our words could kill, anyone who wasn’t dead would be in jail. Let’s be honest, our words can really get away from us. Who has not said something to someone that they wish that they could take back? It is so easy to talk negatively about someone or to tell off someone. We may not think it is a big deal, but we know that these words are not just words. These words do damage that can last a lifetime. Not only that, but the words we use reveal our heart. As Jesus says in Matthew 12, “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” It’s not just that the words we use are wrong, but our hearts are as well.
What is in our heart is the foundation of the passage for today. Today’s passage is the first of six clarifications that Jesus will make regarding the law. He will let us know what has been read in the law, and then he will explain the spirit of that law which exceeds the simple act of following the letter of the law. Essentially he reveals how God intended we would live as we obeyed the law. We come to understand through these passages that God is as concerned with our internal state as he is with our external obedience to his laws.
Jesus reveals to us that when we insult others or have anger that desires another’s destruction, we are essentially committing murder. In Jewish culture insults to one’s name were taken to be an offense to one’s identity. A name was not just a name, so to call someone a fool was to make a claim about their very identity. Insults sought to destroy their true identity and deny that they were who God had made them. The same can be seen in our culture as well. We tend to own the names that people call us, and when we insult someone, we are denying the worth that God sees in them.
This assassination of character leads to broken relationships. Jesus would go so far as to say that correcting these relationships took priority over certain religious practices. Jesus calls us to reconciliation with one another as, without that, our worship and our relationship with God will be hindered.
Take a few minutes today to take inventory of the words you use for other people. Are there a number of people who you call idiots or fools or jerks? Do your words honor the image of God that each person possesses? Then take a minutes to consider who you might need reconciliation with. It will not be easy or comfortable, but neither is having something weigh down your worship and your prayers. Seek out reconciliation and ask for forgiveness. Ask God to help you see people as he sees them. When he does, it may actually break your heart.