When someone would call me names as a child, I would run to my mother to tell her about the incident. You know what she would say? “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” But, they do. Names hurt. So do accusations and lies and sinister laughter.
In the words of Jesus, “Unless my virtue surpasses that of other religious leaders who are hypocrites, I will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” And you know what blocks me from becoming virtuous? It is called, raqa [raw-kah]. Jesus says, “…whoever says to his brother [or sister], raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin…” It means “to spread out a rumor,” or, “to hammer out someone’s reputation by calling them ‘useless,’ ‘empty,’ and, ‘of no value.’” Now, we know the commandments. We know when we break the Ten Commandments we sin. But we do not often understand that when we indulge in malicious gossip, when we consider someone useless, we sin against the law of love.
Jesus tells us how raqa starts. It begins with anger. Someone hurts me. I begin raqa. Someone takes my spot at table, or in choir, or at cards, or in the parking spot. I begin raqa. Public slander is illegal. And according to the Canon Law of the Church, I violate someone’s privacy and good name when I spread malicious gossip about a fellow Catholic Christian. In the words of Sister Barbara Reid, little transgressions often turn into big transgressions.
This is not who we are as Christians. St. Paul says that God waits to “speak a word of wisdom to those who are mature…” And the mature according to St. Paul are those who work towards perfection or completeness. A mature Christian is one who knows the end result of our faith is Christ Jesus. When we have the end goal insight, we are not raqa people. Sticks and stones do break bones. Names and insinuations hurt. But when they go low, we go high through faith in Christ.
May the Eucharist today mature our faith! May this maturity where we know the end result is heaven make us honest and complete. For “blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!”
The Rev. Fr. Dr. T. Becket A. Franks, O.S.B.
The 6th Sunday Ordinary Time