In today’s gospel Jesus seems to almost equate anger and harsh words with murder. They’re liable to judgment, he says.
Does that exaggerate the damage words can cause? If you think about it, angry words can just about destroy someone. Killing someone’s spirit, taking away someone’s reputation may not draw a jail sentence here on earth, but God sees the harm that’s done. Sometimes, so do we.
Murder takes away physical life; we also need to respect another kind of life that people have. “Respect” is a wonderful word. It means “to look again” in Latin, to look again at someone and see a value we may have denied or missed, to constantly reassess how we judge another. Jesus tells us to do this as we come before God’s altar to offer our gift. It’s one of the reasons behind the sign of peace we offer our neighbor at Mass. It’s a sign of respect.
As we look honestly and respectfully at others, we also have to look honestly at ourselves. Respect is a form of love, St. Paul of the Cross writes. It’s “love toward your neighbor, putting up with the faults of others, looking at all with charity and compassion, having a good opinion of everyone and a bad opinion only of yourself. A simple eye lets you see your neighbor as full of virtues and yourself full of vices, but without discouragement, peacefully, humbly.” (Letter 525)
make me an instrument of your peace,
bringing life and hope to others, not death.