Is Labelling People A Murderous Act?


The other day my wife and I had a conversation about the use of the word "fool" as it relates to one's children.   You see, I tend to call it like I see it when it comes to particular actions by my boys that appear foolish to me.

Merideth argued that not only was my use of the word was hurtful, but that Jesus himself once said that calling someone a fool was a damnable offense.  

Even though I felt chastened (and rightly so), a blasphemous thought went through my head in my defense---a thought that didn't make its way to my lips: "Well, Jesus didn't have boys that acted like fools now did he?"

I have been thinking about that conversation, though.  The verse Merideth referenced comes from Matthew 5:22 and it goes like this:  
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, 'Raca,' is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. 
The word 'Raca' is the same as calling someone "empty-headed," in case you were wondering.

So what is Jesus talking about here?  What does he mean?  Like much of the Sermon on the Mount (which is where this is drawn from) Jesus is raising the bar for behavior.  He puts us on notice that the evil actions we perpetuate toward a brother or a sister have their origin in our thought life.  

It's like Jesus is saying, "Ah, but murderous thoughts start in the mind, then go to the lips... and then destruction, the kind of destruction that results in murder unfolds."  

In other words... Your words can kill.  Your labels can kill.  They can begin a cycle of violence that can lead to dark and horrible places.  

And we do this all the time.  We put labels on people all the time.  We reduce them to a category without giving it any thought.  We gloss over their complexity, their humanity, their pain, their passions and we call them a name.  

Author and university professor David Dark puts it like this:  
There's hardly any action so undemanding, so utterly imaginative, as the affixing of a label. It's the costliest of mental shortcuts.
As you move through your day today and encounter people who challenge you, people who push your buttons, people who cause you pain or anxiety... Don't let the labels you would affix to them form thoughts that lead to darkness.

Speak life. Speak words that heal.  And trust God to do the rest.

May the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.  



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