THE SIN OF PRESUMPTION IS A SIN AGAINST JUSTICE
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ JER 23:5-8; MATTHEW 1:18-24 ]
One of the most grievous sins against justice is the sin of presumption. When we are presumptuous over people’s actions, we could do great injustice to the reputation of the person. This happens when we accept as evidence from hearsay, gossip or from appearances. Those who are wrongly accused or misunderstood experience great pain, especially when they are doing good. The sin of presumption of course is perpetuated by gossip and fake news.
When people come to tell me, “Your Grace, I heard …” My question to them is always, “Is it true? Is it verified?” Most of time, they would say, “No, Bishop, this is what I heard.” Then I ask again, “Why are you telling me? Do you want me to verify for you?” Then they say, “No, bishop. Don’t reveal my name.” My reply, “If you do not want me to tell the person where my source is, then there is no way for me to verify the truth. I would be like you, passing gossip and fake news to others and hurting innocent people. If that were the case, why would you want to share this piece of information with me? What use is it for me? Is it because you want me to be prejudiced and suspicious against that person?”
Today, the scripture readings speak of the necessity of exercising justice and acting with integrity. St Joseph is a good exemplar of how one should conduct oneself without falling into the sin of presumption. He had every reason to accuse Mary of infidelity. No one would believe that she was impregnated through the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit. It was too far-fetched a story. Joseph would have been devastated at the thought of her betrayal. If we were in his situation, we would surely accuse our spouse of adultery. We would be filled with anguish and anger. We would just react without thinking.
But Joseph, being a just man and a man of integrity, remained calm, collected and thoughtful. He did not accuse Mary or charge her for lying to him. He did not jump to conclusion. He accepted her explanation. He gave her the benefit of the doubt. He did not think ill or negative of her. He could not explain the situation though. He left the matter in the hands of God and His judgement. But at the same time, it was necessary for him to find a solution to resolve the dilemma. Instead of reacting, he thought through the situation and concluded that it would be best to divorce her informally so that she would be protected from the harshness of the law and it would be good for everyone.
Nevertheless, his logical decision was not a closed one. He was still receptive and discerning. He brought his logical judgment to the Lord in prayer. Indeed, in life, rational discourse and discernment is just the first step in making a judgment. There are things beyond human understanding. We need to bring the matter to God. And this was what Joseph did. He brought it to the Lord in prayer. He was not fixated in his mind and in his apparently just decision. He was docile and receptive to God’s will. And the Lord answered him, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because she has conceived what is in her by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son and you must name him Jesus, because he is the one who is to save his people from their sins.”
However, this was not the end of the story. After discernment with the Lord and hearing His command, he immediately obeyed the Lord. “When Joseph woke up he did what the angel of the Lord had told him to do: he took his wife to his home.” He did not insist on his way, unlike many of us. Although we say we need to consult the Lord on our decision-making, many of us, after knowing what the Lord wants, would nevertheless continue to insist on doing what we have decided to do. We are adamant in our judgement. This is so true when people judge from hearsay and appearances. They already form a judgement and a prejudice in their minds. No matter what we say, the person’s mind is already made up.
Indeed, this is why Joseph is called a just man in the scriptures. If he were not just, he would have jeopardized the economy of salvation. If he had blown up the issue with Mary, it would have caused the death of Mary and the child in her womb. If he had reacted rashly and presumptuously, this would have been the result. But it was his sense of justice, not to judge without having the facts clearly, that saved the life of Mary and that of our Lord. But more than that, he must have been a great mentor to the young child who “grew in age and wisdom” under the tutelage of Mary and Joseph. Christ, being the Son of God, of course is without sin but yet in living out the Spirit of God, He also had to learn through the daily actions and life events. We can be sure that Joseph’s sense of justice and discerning attitude carried Him throughout His ministry.
Indeed, in His ministry, Jesus was never presumptuous with supposed sinners. Joseph would have had a part to play in the way Jesus made His judgement on apparent sinners. With the adulterous women, the Lord passed no judgement nor condemned her. He said to the adulterous woman in John’s gospel, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.” (Jn 8:11) And to the other sinful woman in Luke’s gospel, He said, “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much; but he who is forgiven little, loves little. Your sins are forgiven.” (Lk 7:47f) To Zacchaeus the tax-collector, He said, “Zacchaeus, make haste and come down; for I must stay at your house today …Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Lk 19:5, 9f) Have we forgotten what Jesus taught, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Mt 7:1f) Jesus not only taught but He practiced what He preached.
For this reason, Jesus is truly the fulfillment of the Old Testament. When Jeremiah prophesied, “See, the days are coming when I will raise a virtuous Branch for David, who will reign as true king and be wise, practising honesty and integrity in the land”. Jesus is that King of peace. With Jesus, we can be confident of God’s justice. “In his days Judah will be saved and Israel dwells in confidence. And this is the name he will be called: The Lord-our-integrity.” With the psalmist, we rejoice, “In his days justice shall flourish, and peace until the moon fails. O God, give your judgement to the king, to a king’s son your justice, that he may judge your people in justice and your poor in right judgement. For he shall save the poor when they cry and the needy who are helpless. He will have pity on the weak and save the lives of the poor.”
Consequently, as we prepare to receive the King of peace, let us be peacemakers. Let us not cause division with our gossips and the spread of fake news, especially through social media. Without verifying the truth of what we are passing on, we perpetuate the injustices and the falsehood of the world, creating dissension and destroying good and innocent people. If we are serious in helping someone, then we must have the courage to speak, dialogue and seek clarification from the person concerned, instead of sending anonymous letters, fake emails, or publishing in social media or simply through gossip. Those who truly seek justice and the good of others, should be ready to stand up for the truth as Jesus and Jeremiah did. To hide under anonymity would do no one any good. If we do not know the facts, then let us be quiet and not cause misunderstanding and division or sow doubts in the minds of others. This is the work of the devil. Do not be his collaborators by sowing doubt in the minds of others about this or that person or project without first verifying the facts from the right sources. This is what Christian justice is all about, tempered by charity and integrity.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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