I had a hunch,
so I looked through all four gospels.
I was right!
Which means that I was wrong originally,
and also that I have to go back to that part of my book to rewrite it!
Let me explain: I had a dilemma in reading through the Sermon on the Mount. Well, just one of the dilemmas Jesus throws at us when we seek to examine his words. This bit:
‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.” 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. (Matt. 5:21,22)
Strong words indeed! Calling someone a fool will place us in danger of hell!!!? That’s what he said! This is a command to his followers, which we must heed. Why say we follow him but not do as he commands? Actually, we can’t, or we would be liars!
However, Jesus himself did get quite insulting at times, calling Pharisees and other religious people ‘vipers‘, ‘whitewashed tombs‘, said their father was the devil, for not accepting him, even violently ejecting those he called a ‘den of robbers‘ from the Temple! This is often excused as ‘righteous anger’, and so it’s easy to take what Jesus said about anger and place it in the context of his actions and come to a conclusion that if your anger is ‘righteous’ i.e. it comes from a sense of right and wrong, and is in response to something unjust, wicked or evil, then it is perfectly fine and excusable.
So I continued on my quest to oppose such things and allow myself to get angry with people who were unrighteous and particularly those who were inciting, encouraging or legislating for others to do unrighteous acts. This of course, meant mainly politicians. All along, though, the words of Jesus kept ringing in my head. Do they not ring in yours? Surely there are situations and times when you look at yourself and realise that your behaviour, your attitude, even your thoughts (which was a major thrust throughout the Sermon on the Mount) are not in keeping with his commands… if you say you’re a follower, yes? Righteous living is about more than who you hang out with and what you eat or drink! In fact it isn’t even that at all! I was being told by a few people, my wife included, to stop getting angry at Trump, or Theresa May, or Jeremy Hunt (whose name is prone to abuse!), or… well, there’s a fairly long list!
[The great thing about Trump is that he can produce sheer bundles of mirth from me! I’ve found that laughing at all the things he says is much more edifying. Laughter is good for you. Try it.]
What I kept trying to do was an exercise I made myself do some time ago; try to look at everyone through the eyes of Jesus. Everyone is made in the image of God and is loved by that all-loving God. While it is sin and behaviour that God does not love, his love for the individual is unswayed and beyond our comprehension. Each of these people that annoy me are each a human creation, capable of receiving the love of God. So also should my attitude towards them be.
That’s when it hit me, and I searched Matthew, Mark, Luke and John; Jesus never personally insulted anyone! Any individual who came to him might have felt rebuke or admonishment, and certainly received teaching from him, but there was never any name-calling or abuse. With one exception: when Peter took him aside to tell him that he would not let Jesus go up to Jerusalem to be killed, Jesus rebuked him sharply with the infamous “Get behind me, Satan!”
Peter was very familiar and dear to Jesus, and had only just been praised for announcing that he believed Jesus to be the Son of the living God. While Peter would have felt the sting of that rebuke, he would have known the deep love Jesus had for him, like a parent has for a child they rebuke. He had overstepped a mark in trying to interfere with Jesus’ intentions. : I have come to realise that actually, Jesus was not addressing Peter! Quite simple, really; he said ‘Satan’, not ‘Peter’ or ‘Simon’. In dealing with others in my life who are/were dear to me (as Peter was to Jesus) who have turned against me or attacked me, I have been able to see that some ‘issue’ they have (often a mental health problem) is the cause of their animosity. Since I know them, I am able to detach the animosity from them as the individual they are, and look at it in separation from them. Once I am able to blame the issue and not the person, hatred of the individual has no chance to develop! Jesus addressed Satan, the accuser of the brethren, because he saw him ‘behind’ Peter, causing the issue which was leading Peter astray i.e. his fear of Jesus going to die, and his inability to stop it. Was that then why Jesus said ‘Get behind me!’ [emphasis mine] – maybe we don’t get the tone or stress he used? He wanted the Accuser to leave Peter alone and try his hand at tempting Jesus, and we know how ineffective he was at that from the wilderness episode! Note how Paul later instructed the Ephesians about this:
In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. (6:16)
In essence, all the flaming arrows we receive in life are of the evil one, and not from those who appear to attack us. They are only the human shield that the cowardly Accuser hides behind. Note also how Paul does not instruct us to return fire! The shield of faith i.e. our trust in Jesus alone, is able to extinguish those arrows of fire; they fizzle out when they hit that shield. If you read that whole famous passage about the armour of God (6:10-17) you can also note how it’s all about armour, and the ‘sword of the Spirit’ is only mentioned at the very end. We are not an offensive army, except when we use God’s words. Even then, it’s only to challenge that Accuser.
Developing this analogy, our perfect Jesus actually loves all of mankind, so he is able to detach these issues and recognise the work of Satan in every person he meets. Seeing the intrinsic good in everyone, Jesus is aware that our sinful nature often comes from the influence of Satan and ‘the world’ e.g. the angry mob that brought the adulteress to Jesus which he stands against and works to overcome. Here’s a brilliant blog about how he not only saved the woman, he saved the mob! So where does that leave ‘original sin’ and ‘total depravity’??? When you realise that the latter phrase was coined only a few centuries ago, and the former only goes back to Augustine (354-430 AD), you start to rethink things a bit, but that’s a MASSIVE debate [with bells, whistles and fireworks] for another time!
Hence why Jesus was never insulting with anyone, unless they were in a group! All the insults hurled as I listed above were in the plural! Jesus was getting angry with a group for good reasons, since they were meant to be religious people and users of the Temple, but they were ‘blind guides’ leading people in the wrong direction or lining their own pockets from the proceeds of religion. Any one of these individuals could come to Christ and be redeemed, as happened with Matthew the tax collector (an utterly despised group of social vermin in the Roman period), and Joseph of Arimathea, a Pharisee.
To go back to Jesus’ command, as I must do, we can set it in context: Jesus was talking about murder, and then likening it to anger, as if he’s labelling that as the root cause of murder. We can go right back to the first recorded murder, in the fourth chapter of Genesis, when Cain killed his brother Abel. Note what God said to Cain…
Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.’ (Gen. 4: 6,7)
Cain was not right in his heart, which God knew, with sin ‘crouching at his door’. In which way? We know he was angry towards Abel. This led to him murdering his brother. God knew Cain’s heart, and so his sacrifice meant nothing. Cain’s acceptance was based on him ‘doing what is right’. Anything we do for God means nothing to him if our heart is not right! It is repeated right throughout scripture, particularly from the prophets and in the Psalms. Cain was angry with Abel and that anger grew. He did not ‘master’ it as God warned him to do, and it grew into the act of murder. Thus why we have Jesus stating that anger towards an individual, even silently within our heart, is to be expunged from the true follower, or we will be judged for it.
Seeing an individual among a collective is what Jesus did all the time. The woman in the pushing crowd who touched him in faith, little Zacchaeus who climbed into the tree to see Jesus in the middle of the throng, the blind man who called out to him as those around him told him to shush… and it is what we all must do too.
I can ground this back into the 21st century by going back to Star Trek again! Yeah, Trekkies will line up to tell me I should be saying the 23rd century, but I’m going to talk about the Borg, so it’s actually the 24th century. Ha!
I am reminded of Hugh. Hugh the Borg drone. For those unfamiliar with the genre, the Borg were the most merciless enemy the Federation or anyone could face; a collective ‘hive mind’ thinking rationally and unemotionally as one, with their effervescent greeting: “We are the Borg. You will be assimilated into our collective. Resistance is futile.” In the ST:NG episode ‘I, Borg’ (which is a great one to watch for the current debate the West is having with extremism), the Enterprise takes on board an injured one of their drones, a half machine cyborg, that behaved as a bee separated from its hive would: only seeking to get back to the collective. The crew were given orders by Captain Picard to implant a stealth computer ‘virus’ into its programming and release it back to be collected again, and so infect the entire species with the virus that would crash their system and bring an end to them. However, as the drone lived on, away from the hive mind, it developed a personality, and even said “I” instead of “we”. The crew realised he was becoming an individual again, and even named him ‘Hugh’. They managed to change their view of the collective, and did not infect him, but allowed him to go back, because this was what Hugh wanted; he was able to decide he belonged with his own kind. However, his sense of individuality was released into the collective mind. It took on a life of its own, grew in the programming, and created an underground ‘subculture’ within the hive, much like the concepts found in ‘The Matrix’.
Seeing the individual within any collective grouping is the way of Jesus, as I said. In doing this, following in those footsteps, I see the likes of Trump, Hunt, Bush, Blair, etc. (all my political ‘enemies’) as those people whom God loves and can reach out to, just as he did for me. This assuages my anger, and redirects it at the collective. I hate the Borg, but not Hugh. I hate the alt-right agenda, but not Trump. I hate the destroyers of our NHS, but not Hunt.
When we empathise with ‘freedom fighters’ and understand their cause, and their anger at the injustice they see, we feel that pain, but also that wrath. Too often, such anger leads to the destruction of human lives, which is when they become ‘terrorists’ – were they to grasp the concept of the unique rights of the individuals they are impacting, would they not stop short of violence? It is the same with governments leading us to war; they, like those who radicalise young idealists, attempt by propaganda to control our minds as a hive to hate that which they want us to kill. Stop! Be the individual who will say ‘NO!’ to hatred, and see the individual on the other side.
While I continue to attack injustice and unfair policies, and evil attitudes, and try to make others aware of such things, I will seek to stop short of hating the individual. In the current political climate, I know this will not be easy for me. I value your prayers.
Of this I repent, Lord.
Grace be with you.
[Post Script; 4/9/20] – This is in my book ‘The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached’…
I later came to another conclusion about this incident between Jesus and Peter. Having studied linguistics and communication, it is obvious to me and my academic colleagues that the different means of communication contain many aspects that are unique to that particular means. I find it very difficult to give emphasis and weight to some words more than others while writing. This is not a problem when speaking, since we use differences in volume and intonation, combined with non-verbal gestures and facial expressions. I’m going to state that I don’t believe Jesus was calling Peter ‘Satan’! That would be a personal insult, and would be so out of character with our Lord. Why would he have preached about not saying things like ‘Raca’ to someone, and then be guilty of it himself?
This scenario where he rebukes Peter being the single exception, my question was then ‘why?’ On reflection, I realised what Jesus was actually saying. Think of the emphasis here: “Get behind ME, Satan!” This is how he was saying it! His beloved disciple had made the confession of faith in him, and now was only making an error. A huge one, yes, that deserved to be addressed, but Jesus would have known he only lacked the comprehension.
When we think of how Satan (or evil entities) attack us, we should be mindful of Paul’s allegory. To the Ephesians, he warned them take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (6:16). How often do we make statements like ‘the Devil is using that person to get at you/me’ or ‘he doesn’t realise that he’s doing the Devil’s work’? If we think of how the opposite of courage is cowardice, then we should well expect this from the Father of Lies. He loves to find others to manipulate, through poor understanding, lack of spiritual maturity/ courage, or plain fear, to do what he wants them to do. He prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour (1Pet. 5:8), and once he finds that someone, he makes them an unwitting agent in his plans. I form the picture in my mind of a cowardly archer, hiding behind a human shield while firing the arrows at me. Once I have this picture, then the person who is opposing or attacking me, maybe even accusing me of certain things which are untrue, is only an instrument in the hands of evil, and not actually inherently evil themselves. This really helps when it’s hard to forgive someone.