JUDGE WITH COMPASSION AND MERCY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Dan 9:4-10; Ps 79:8-9, 11, 13; Luke 6:36-38]
Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned.” This saying of Jesus must not be taken out of context. It does not mean that we are not to judge at all. Every day, we must make all sorts of judgement, even with respect to people. Even Jesus Himself made pronouncement against the scribes and Pharisees for their hypocrisy and inconsistencies. (cf Lk 11:33-52)
What kind of judgment does the Lord condemn? It is a judgment that is made without compassion and mercy. When we judge someone simply based on the objective law without taking into consideration the situation, the context and the entire life of the person, we judge without compassion and mercy. By so doing, we treat people like things without feelings and without personal struggles. We apply the laws accordingly and as a result, we tend to be harsh in our judgment and condemnation. The motive of judgment is also wrong because it is concerned with condemnation and punishment. The whole purpose is to bring someone to justice, which is seen in terms of imposing penalty.
However, Jesus warns us about such kind of judgement. When we act in that manner, we judge ourselves because we show ourselves to be lacking in perception and understanding of the law, the accused and the complainant. By applying the law blindly, we might have fulfilled the letter of the law but miss out the spirit of the law. Most of all, we would not have acted justly when we see justice as more than legalism, but the restoration of both the accused and the plaintiff. Legalism in judgment becomes another act of injustice since any judgement that does not take into consideration of every aspect of the person and the offence would not be a proper judgment.
How, then, can we judge with compassion and mercy? Firstly, we must be in touch with ourselves. Hence, the exhortation to judge with mercy and compassion is followed by the parable of the blind man leading another blind man. “Will not both fall into a pit? Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” (Lk 6:39, 41-42) Unless we are aware of our own failings, conscious of our struggles, realistic about our limitations, we will condemn others when they fail. Indeed, the Lord reprimanded the scribes, “Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them. Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge; you did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.” (Lk 6:46,52)
How can we tell others to do something that we ourselves cannot do? St Paul had a similar indictment on the Jews as well. “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'” (Rom 2:17-24) The truth is that we ourselves are committing these offences even as we condemn others when they fail.
Secondly, unlike God who takes into account the context and the entire history of our life when we sin, we do not when it comes to the sins of our fellowmen. When we sin, we all have our reasons to justify our wrongdoings. We are quick to excuse ourselves, blame the situation, the people around us, our parents and upbringing. We have all the justifications for the wrongs we have done. But we do not give the same leeway to those who commit sins and fail us. We are quick to judge and condemn. We pass judgement on their motives of why and what they did. Our judgment is always negative and one-sided, always thinking the worst of the person. Most of all, we do not even know the circumstances of the person before he committed an offence. We condemn a rapist, a pedophile, a molester, a drug addict or even a murderer without taking into account his tragic past. The truth is that behind the sin or offence of a person is a history. He could once have been a victim of violence himself, of shame and guilt. No one becomes a criminal overnight. It has to do with being the victim of sin himself.
That is why when God judges, He takes into account all that we have gone through, not just what we have done but also the effects of the sins of humanity, the influence of a promiscuous and sinful society, our wrong upbringing, our wounded parents and guardians. We are not just sinners who commit sins but we are also equally influenced and contaminated by the sins of society. It is easy to condemn sex abusers and drug addicts when society has a part to play in leading them into temptation because of money and rejection. Society is equally responsible for the sins of the individual because we tempt them and make the circumstances easy for them to fall into sin. This explains why Jesus is the throne of God’s mercy because He has undergone all that we have gone through. “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:15f)
Thirdly, when we judge, it must not be to punish or to destroy but to heal and restore. Justice that is reduced to a punitive understanding is nothing but revenge. God does not judge us to condemn us but to save us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (Jn 3:16f) The purpose of Jesus’ coming is not to condemn but to enlighten us so that we can walk in the truth.
This too is the reason for examination, appraisal and assessment. It is not meant to put people down or to punish them but rather to encourage them, to help them see their mistakes and weaknesses so that they can learn and grow from them to become more fulfilled and confident in themselves. Judgment must not make a person feel demoralized but rather empowered and motivated to change and to do more. Even during the time of St Paul, some members of the Corinthian community were living immoral lives. St Paul instructed them, “When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:4bf) Excommunication was exercised not to condemn an errant sinner in the community but to highlight to him the seriousness so that he might repent of his sin and return to the community.
So today, let us learn from the Israelites how to receive the compassion and mercy of God. When the Israelites repented of their sins, the Lord was ever ready to forgive. However, there could be no forgiveness unless they came to awareness of their faults and admitted them humbly. Without excuses, the Israelites acknowledged their sins. They said, “We have sinned, we have done wrong, we have acted wickedly, we have betrayed your commandments and your ordinances and turned away from them. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.” Not only did they confess their sins but they also received the sentence of God with humility. They said, “Integrity, Lord, is yours; ours the look of shame we wear today, we, the people of Judah, the citizens of Jerusalem, the whole of Israel, near and far away, in every country to which you have dispersed us because of the treason we have committed against you. To us, Lord, the look of shame belongs, to our kings, our princes, our ancestors, because we have sinned against you.”
Most of all, they ended their prayer with confidence and trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness. “To the Lord our God mercy and pardon belong, because we have betrayed him, and have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God nor followed the laws he has given us through his servants the prophets.” With the psalmist, we too pray with a contrite heart and confidence in God’s mercy so that we can render the mercy we receive from Him to others who have sinned against us. “Do not hold the guilt of our fathers against us. Let your compassion hasten to meet us; we are left in the depths of distress. O God our saviour, come to our help. Come for the sake of the glory of your name. O Lord our God, forgive us our sins; rescue us for the sake of your name.”
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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