Raca: Christian Contempt in the Public Square
Have you ever been in a discussion with a group of people and posited an idea that drew an expression of utter condemnation? Were you shocked by the other person’s or people’s contempt? Does this happen often when you speak to a group of people in person?
The answer to the last question, and perhaps the others as well, is probably “No”. These kinds of situations, especially among ordinary, everyday people who are generally kind and gentle, rarely or never happen. People, who speak in group settings especially, are usually quite civil and reasonable. This is even more true (or at least it should be) with people who are followers of Jesus.
Unfortunately, what many people have observed in most social media environments is a common incivility, condemnation, and contempt coming from people who otherwise would be civil and reasonable. Something about sitting alone in front of their computer, or other, screen makes them susceptible to the idea that they alone exist and they alone have the most cogent answers to most important (or at least controversial) questions. It’s a sort of modern solipsism.
This leads us to the interesting Aramaic word translated as “Fool”, Raca. It is taken from the Aramaic “reqa” which means “empty-headed”. It is considered one of the most insulting terms of contempt in Jewish culture. This word in the context of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:22 reads as follows:
21“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. 23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
This is a cause for concern in the context of social media. Too many times, Christians find a way to say something like, “You’re a fool if…” or “You’re an idiot if…” indicating that they not only cannot see the other person’s point of view they will not.
This is the thrust of Raca. It means that the other person’s view is worthless to you and you have no problem saying it. It means that you have the superior view in your own eyes and you have no interest in even considering that you are wrong, no interest in a discussion that might bring you closer to truth. It means that you have contempt for another human being, created in God’s image, who has value and feelings. Raca is dehumanizing. It’s the ultimate way or “writing someone off” and dismissing them as nothing. It’s cruelty; a spit in the face.
This is completely counter to the Way. Jesus’ Way is about listening and responding with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. The Way is about loving your human brother and sister (whether Christian or not) so that you can truly love God whom you have not seen. (1 John 4:20)
Leviticus 19:17 says it well, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.”
There are many problems with contempt in the life of a Christian, but here are a few important ones:
- Contempt drives people away from Jesus
- Contempt promotes a very negative stereotype of Christians
- Contempt poisons those who feel and show it from the inside and outside
- Contempt stops conversation, not only in the middle but possibly for good, causing people to never resolve a matter or get to the truth about a matter
- Contempt is completely unnecessary and anti-intellectual
- Contempt is based on fear and disdain, not love
- Contempt will never win someone over. It only pushes people farther away
Raca should have no place in the hearts, minds, or conversations of Christians, not even toward those who hate us. We have to be ready to speak truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29). This doesn’t mean that a person standing for truth should give up, but it does mean that we must never make a statement out of fear or hate. After all, “Perfect love drives out fear.” (1 John 4:18) Be courageous in love family of God!