“But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (NIV)”
The problem with ‘raca,’ or at least our debate about it is that people are not reading enough good Jewish literature. The Bible is a Jewish text, and must be read as such. Jewish literature does two things. First, it uses the word ‘raca’ in many of its stories so that you get a sense of what this word means outside of scripture to an average Jewish person. Second, Jewish literature gives you a sense of how Jews say things. Today, when we make two points consecutively we are often telling you what something is not. For example, I may tell you that my car is grey, and then say ‘a dark grey-almost black.’ This is not how Jewish people talked. Jewish people often said the positive, then said exactly the same thing in a negative way. So what we will see are statements that say if you are good you do this, if you are bad you do that. These statements mean exactly the same thing, they are just said differently so that all may understand. (Read through Proverbs for the best examples of this.)
When we look at the verse on ‘raca’ though, we are trying to figure out what the difference is between calling someone ‘raca’ and calling someone a fool. The point is, there is not one. Fool is a more general term, and can be used Biblically, but here it is calling someone ‘worthless,’ unable to learn and not worthy of our time or attention. Scripture is telling us that we are not to do this. Everyone has worth. This is supported in the teachings that tell us that every person has been made in the image of God and should be treated accordingly. What is being pointed out here is that even the Pharisees (who Jesus frequently disagrees with) realize that it is wrong to treat a person this way, when we know from scripture that they do treat people this way, so how much worse is it when you, who call yourself a follower of Jesus, treat people this way (even a little bit)?
This is an important point. We are not to consider anyone to be ‘worthless.’ So what does this mean? This means that we are not to look down on people or exclude them because we think they are somehow ‘less’ than us. This is hard to do. In many churches people are afraid that the problems children of new believers come in with will affect their children. Worse, some of our more immature members point to the fact that the new people’s behavior (ie. mere presence) interferes with their worship. Because of their fears they tend to subtly shun anyone who is not already ‘up to speed’ on how to behave. This is wrong. While we do need to protect our children, we also need to disciple new people. (People who have been in the church all of their lives should not need discipling; they should be teachers by now!)
Many churches today have overcome these issues and are growing. Unfortunately, instead of figuring out how they are doing this and joining them many smaller churches are condemning the larger ones for ‘watering down the gospel’ as evidence by all of the people who know very little about God in their church (ie new believers) and their need to preach simply (since there are many new believers). But isn’t a whole bunch of new believers exactly what we are told a good church should have? And if you are mature, shouldn’t you be looking for a whole bunch of people to share your wisdom with, rather than keeping it to yourself, and your group who has already read through their Bible a bazillion times? Just saying…