Simcha Fisher hit publish on a post that struck quite a few nerves. The Day I Bought Steak with My Food-stamps is Simcha at her best: honest, unblinking, challenging.
On receiving food-stamps, Simcha writes:
It wasn’t our fault. We didn’t mean it to be this way. We’re really trying. We’re not worthless, truly not!
And they hated us anyway. Oh, man. They told us everything I had been saying to myself: freeloaders. Not willing to work. What’s wrong with America today. Culture of dependency. And all the while, we went around the house with winter jackets and three pairs of socks on, because we couldn’t afford to turn the heat above 60 degrees when it was below zero out. My kids never got a new toy, never got new clothes . . . And we were thoroughly, thoroughly stuck in a neighborhood where everyone was on parole for beating, cheating, or molesting someone else on the street. They set the actual street on fire once . . . My kids were not safe in their own yard. I would let them play in the rain puddles only after checking for used condoms.
I couldn’t stay away from comment boxes about food stamps. And every single one told us that we were shit, because we needed help buying food.
During Lent, my friend and former student Sam Alzheimer penned a beautiful reflection on a scripture that has perpetually both stymied and worried me. Jesus admonishes us not to call another "fool". Now, "fool" just doesn't seem so very bad to me. I mean, does this apply when talking to telemarketers? When driving on Bobby Jones Expressway? I need particulars.
Heart disease is a top killer in America.
I’m not talking about the kind of cardiac problems your doctor warned you about . . . No, I’m talking about heart disease of the spiritual variety—the kind Jesus diagnoses in today’s Gospel reading when he tells us not to call others “fools.”
Call it what you will—contempt, hostility, resentment—it is the disease of negative judgment. It’s having a heart clouded with mean-spirited assessment of others. Need an example? It’s the interior disposition on display on political talk shows. Need an example closer to home? It’s how you feel about that one person who gets under your skin.
I suspect there is a distinction between soberly assessing another person’s faults (when you’re in a legitimate position to do so) and flying off the handle because someone pisses you off. To me, the chief difference is the emotional temperature on display. When your blood boils, the Great Physician is saying you’re in critical condition, spiritually speaking. There’s something in your heart opposed to love, which should be the heart’s primary purpose.
The take away? Mean-spirited judgment of another is real sin . . . The Gospel implies that bad-mouthing (or even quiet, angry judgement) is bad enough to keep you from the altar. Jesus says it leads to hell.