Fools, Idiots and Beyond
Language was something that was monitored pretty closely at my house when I was growing up. Not only would we never have thought of using a 4-letters word, we also were “encouraged” not to use words like “darn” or “gosh” because these were softened forms of curses. When I got really mad at someone, I’d might call them an “idiot.” Calling someone “stupid” was a greater offense that calling them an “idiot.” And the ultimate insult was to call someone a “stupid idiot.” I don’t remember getting in big trouble for those word choices, but I do remember one time when Mom jerked me up and threatened me with her feared flyswatter (what she used for spankings). Why? I called my sister a fool. “Idiot” would have gotten mild reprimand; “fool” put me in danger of a whuppin'. Why the difference?
Well, if you have done your New Testament reading for today, then you know the reason for the difference. Jesus said that to call your brother (or in my case, sister) a fool was to place you in danger of hellfire. “Stupid” and “idiot” and even “stupid-idiot” are one thing, but calling someone a “fool” can send you to hell. That was always curious to me, but I have never since called anyone a fool! Even people who I suspected were.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling us to a ethic that transcends rules and exceptions to the rules. He calls us to a morality that goes beyond that of the Pharisees, the experts in splitting hairs and finding loopholes. He says, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). He then goes on to illustrate that ethic as He calls us to seek the heart and mind of God in doing what’s right and reflecting God glory in everything we do--
- Don’t just follow the rule of not killing someone; deal with the anger in your heart so that you will reflect the love of God.
- Don’t just follow the rule against adultery; deal with the lust in your heart so that you will reflect God’s purity.
It’s ironic that sometimes we read the Sermon on the Mount as if Jesus were giving us a new and different list of rules to follow. Jesus says “Don’t swear at all" so spend our time in Bible classes wondering if this means that we aren’t to take an oath in court. Jesus says, "Turn the other cheek" and we decide that we only have to do that once ands then we're out of cheeks.
It doesn’t matter whether you call someone a fool or an idiot. It’s not the specific word that Jesus has in mind, but the heart that gives voice to it. Listen to the “fool” passage in Matthew 5:22 in Petersen’s The Message translation--
“I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire.