The A-Team was one of the hot TV shows when I was in high school. The team was irreverent and ingenious in their fight for justice for the little guy, and Dirk Benedict was a hunk. Their dysfunctional bond, which was obviously formed during some dark times in Vietnam, sang out in their humorous banter. My friends and I delighted in calling each other “Fool” a la B. A. Baracus played by Mr. T. My mother overheard me once and pulled me aside. In a way that was both prim and dramatic she told me that she never used the word fool because the Bible says that “whoever calls another a fool shall be in danger of hellfire.” This was shocking, as intended, but I eventually reasoned there had to be something more to the passage than I understood and joyfully returned to saying, “I pity the fool…!” I am thanking God right now that TikTok was not a thing back then and there is no video evidence of this time.
The passage my mom was talking about is Matthew 5:21-22, regarding murder and anger. Right now it feels like we are swimming in a river of anger and violence, both threatened and actual, so this morning, rather than picking up my phone and doom-scrolling the news and social media sites for the next outrage, I re-read a section of Dallas Willard’s “A Divine Conspiracy” on this passage. Willard walked me through the scripture to show it isn’t the word I use, but my attitude towards other people that creates the hellfire danger to my soul. It is the underlying contempt which causes the name-calling that is destructive to my spiritual, emotional and physical well-being, not to mention what it does to the people around me.
My takeaway is that if I hold contempt for any person or a group of people in my heart, I am denying the commandment to love my neighbor (and/or my enemy). I am denying God. I often do not love what someone is doing, and may be dismayed or even infuriated with them, but if I follow Jesus I have to let that emotion go. If I don’t let that go, or worse, if I nurture that fury, I am harming myself.
Today we don’t use the word fool so much to convey contempt but we have a lot of other words. “Deplorable” and “Libtard” and racial epithets are words intended to hurt, mock and dehumanize. Using them amplifies the underlying desire to dominate and destroy the object of our contempt, which is maybe why Jesus compares name-calling (and by extension, racism and any other de-humanizing “-ism”) to murder. When we share those words out to the world, it draws to us other people who have the same dark seeds in their hearts and the menace grows. We are responsible for what we hold in our hearts and what we put out into the world. Loving our neighbors who may also be our enemies doesn’t mean we can’t oppose them if they are doing what we believe to be wrong. We are called to resist evil and injustice, but if we do it with contempt in our hearts we are adding to the churn of violence which feeds the fear which in turn validates hatred of the “other,” the opponent, the fool.
The remedy, according to the Gospel, is to love our neighbor and our enemy (Matt 22:37-39, Matt 5:44-45). This might feel impossible, and if left to us it would be. We would never get out of this death spiral on our own feeble good intentions. But, as in Matthew 19:25-26, when the disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” When I give God my anger, and ask for love to grow in its place, I can be saved. I must put God first and put my neighbor ahead of my indignation, anger and fear. And I must do it over and over until it sticks.
No matter what team I think I am on, it is seductive to think of myself as part of the A-Team, the plucky underdogs who stand for justice against self-serving wrong-doers. But this isn’t TV. I am biased and imperfect. My opponents have all known heartache and loss. We are all created with purpose: to seek and love God, and to love each other while we are in this fragile place. The people who are letting go of anger and living that purpose make up the team I want to be on.