"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."
- Matthew 5:22
The title of this week's blog is not aimed at you. At least, I hope not. I've uttered those condescending, judgmental words so many times throughout my life at so many people, I suppose it’s possible that you were one of them. If so, I apologize. Take the person in front of me in line the other day at Walgreens. I went in to purchase candy for my kids to enjoy during the movie we were about to see because I can't handle being fleeced by the theater prices. What was to be a quick trip in and out for Junior Mints, Sour Patch Kids, and Reese's turned into a grand test of patience. It was as though the lady in front of me thought no one else was in line behind her as she casually dialogued with the cashier - long after paying and receiving her bag of items. And, yes, she knew we were behind her.
Looking back, I'm not sure the words, "What an idiot," ran through my head, but I know I felt it. It's the same feeling I get when my neighbor cuts his lawn, but doesn’t take the time to clean up the grass clippings on the sidewalk and street in front of his house. When I hear stories about parents engaging in vicious verbal assaults in front of their children. When I read about yet another pastor whose been exposed as a fraud. When I hear about another violent crime. When someone double-parks.
It's incredible how many opportunities a day I have to utter those ugly words. What an idiot. A moron. Stupid. $&#%...
Jesus had something to say about this. In Matthew 5-7, he lays out what a disciple of his looks like. His followers, contrary to the society around them, don't allow themselves to sizzle in anger. His followers don't give into cheap insults and name-calling. Why? Allow me to suggest at least one reason. Name-calling (along with its sibling attitudes of smugness, superiority, and judgment) dehumanize people who are created in God’s image. You see, every person on earth who has ever lived or ever will live bears our Creator’s image. No matter how good or bad they are, this is a fact. God created humanity in his image in Genesis 1:26. And long after the fall, when sin had permeated the entire human race, God repeated this fact to Noah in Genesis 9:6.
When we call someone a name, we dehumanize that person. We sum up their character - the totality of their personhood - with a name. “Fool.” “Idiot.” You name it (pardon the pun). And it works brilliantly. Consider Nazi Germany's very effective propaganda campaign during World War 2 in which an entire nation was manipulated into adopting a powerful bias against a single ethnic group, the Jews. The result was that a “civilized” nation turned a blind eye to one of the most horrific genocides the world has ever known. All because the Jews were looked upon as less-than-human.
The philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, said, “Once you label me you negate me.” In Jesus’ kingdom, everybody matters. Even our enemies. More than likely, God wants to reveal his love through YOU to your enemies. What better picture of the cross will they see than when they are loved by someone they have mistreated? And what better way will we grow in the abounding love of God than when we learn to love people that we despise? The way Jesus loved his tormentors.
Remember, the essence of Christianity is not the cultivation of a mighty prayer life and learning the Bible backwards and forwards. It’s to love. (That’s why we pray and study God’s word.) And when we are labeling people, insulting them, and calling them names, we are not loving them very well.
Many of us often wonder why, as followers of Jesus, we see very little growth in our love for difficult people. Maybe it’s because we still see them as inhuman, undeserving of our love. Who are those people - the “idiots” - in your life? They’re easier to find than you might think. They’re the ones never invited to your parties. They’re the ones you avoid at church services. They’re the ones who when you’re stuck talking to them, you’re looking for a way out of the conversation. They’re the ones that generate anger the moment they pop into your mind. They are the ones you wish you’d no longer have to endure.
We can learn to love them by beginning here: Rather than looking down on them, dehumanizing them, let’s remember that God has every right in the universe to look at us like idiots. We are nothing without his saving grace, which comes to us through no virtue or performance of our own...grace that comes to us despite our sin, only through reliance on Jesus. And when Jesus looked down from the cross at us, he wasn’t looking down on you or me thinking, “What an idiot.” He raised us up, restoring our humanity.
“Father, forgive them.”