Jesus really doubles down on “do not kill” (Ex. 20:13) in Matthew 5: 21-24. Jesus calls out contempt for others as a form of interpersonal violence, a form of murder.
We live in a world of knee-jerk responses. Cycles of reactivity dominate political and social culture and can seem normal. Labeling and name-calling can even feel righteous – we are pointing out the “evil other,” right? Yet underneath the name-calling is the dangerous posture of contempt. And Jesus will have none of it.
It’s hard to interrupt our judging minds, especially when our judging thoughts feel so good. We get to feel superior to others. That’s the seduction of contempt: we get to be right! And it is corrosive to our spiritual lives. Contempt poisons us from the inside out.
That’s why Jesus warns us against it.
But how do we stop? We have some amazing tools in Christian spirituality to help us become mindful in the moment to gain a measure of freedom. I’ll list a couple of them here.
One is the breath prayer. When you find your blood boiling at another person, pause to breathe. Inhale to a count of 4, saying the word “come” silently in your mind. Exhale to a count of 4, saying the word “Lord” silently. Repeat 3 or 4 times. This will slow you down, offering you greater freedom to truly respond, rather than react. You can experiment with the words, choosing ones that speak helpfully to you.
Another mindful tool is imaginative prayer. Picture in your mind’s eye the person you want to call an idiot. Then, picture that person kneeling before God. Now add yourself to the picture, as you kneel beside that person. God’s Presence is so bright you cannot look directly at God, but you can sense the radiant love that pours over you both. Hold that image for a while and see if God’s compassion for both of you begins to shift anything inside you.
Today I want to step into the wide freedom Jesus offers me from contempt and reactivity. Those are toxic chains that hold me back from abundant life and imperil my soul. Today I want to pause, breathe and follow Jesus.