Perhaps you are not an ill-tempered person. Maybe you do not fly off the handle or rage when your will is frustrated. A calm demeanor, however, is not necessarily evidence that your heart is righteous.
Jesus spoke about a different, even more virulent form of anger—contempt. His warning about insulting others is often passed over by modern readers as unimportant (Matthew 5:22). That is a serious mistake.
The insulting word he used was raca, a dismissive term of contempt in his culture derived from the sound of clearing spit from one’s throat. This kind of contempt is different than mere anger because it seeks to diminish the inherent value of the other person.
Contempt views the other as sub-human and not even worthy of my anger. It excludes the other person from being worthy of any care, thought, or dignity.
In our culture it is all too common to devalue those with different political values, ethnic backgrounds, sexuality, economic status, or religious traditions. In fact many of our political and media leaders build their audiences by doing this.
Of course we should be wise and discerning, but we must not allow our loyalty to ideas to become contempt for those who disagree with us.
Justice Antonin Scalia died in 2016. He was celebrated by conservatives and dreaded by progressives, but both sides recognized his brilliance and his sharpness with both tongue and pen. He was also beloved even by his opponents. It may have been because Scalia held his beliefs without contempt for his opponents.
He said, “I attack ideas. I don’t attack people. And some very good people have some very bad ideas. And if you can’t separate the two, you gotta get another day job.”
More of us, no matter our beliefs, should emulate his example.
- Skye Jethani 2018