Anger and harsh words don’t seem to be the equivalent of murder, but Jesus seems to equate them in today’s gospel. They’re all liable to judgment, he says.
We may dismiss his words as exaggerations, but before we do, think of instances you may know where people have been destroyed by words or angry rejection. It’s not uncommon. 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. Often, so do we.
Murder takes away physical life, but we also must respect others as persons made in God’s image. “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 says we should 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.
As we look at another, we have to look honestly at ourselves too. Respect is a form of love, St. Paul of the Cross writes, “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)
let me look again at those I judge,
let me see them again as you do,
with mercy and forgiveness.
Make me an instrument of your peace,
bringing life and hope to others, not death.