OBJECTIVE AND SUBJECTIVE JUDGEMENT
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [2 Kgs 17:5-8, 13-15, 18; Mt 7:1-5]
Can we judge? In the gospel, Jesus said, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you will give are the judgements that you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given.” Many take this verse out of context and therefore say that we cannot judge. Yet there are other parts of the gospel where Jesus requires us to judge. In fact, immediately after today’s gospel, the next verse says, “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them underfoot and turn and maul you.” (Mt 7:6) Not giving what is holy to dogs or throwing pearls before swine requires judgment. Then in Matthew 18, Jesus speaks of fraternal correction of errant members. (Mt 18:15-19)
In life, we need to make judgment of situations, events, and people. This is provided it is an objective judgment, based on external facts. In the first reading, we witness the objective judgment God passed on the people of Israel. In spite of the call of the prophets sent by the Lord calling the people to repentance, to return to Yahweh and be faithful to the Covenant, they turned away from the Lord. “They worshipped other gods, they followed the practices of the nations that the Lord had dispossessed for them. But they would not listen, they were more stubborn than their ancestors who had no faith in the Lord their God. They despised his laws and the covenant he had made with their ancestors, and the warnings he had given them.”
As a consequence, they paid for their sins. There was no unity among the peoples and the tribes because of injustices, corruption, and greed. They fell into idolatry, and worship of foreign deities which had no existence. They imbibed in the sexual immorality of the pagans. The country fell into moral decadence and complacency in spite of the warnings given by the prophets when Assyria invaded Israel twice before. But this time, the third invasion resulted in Samaria being captured by the Assyrians. The inhabitants were exiled and were sent to Assyria. The Northern Kingdom of Israel thus collapsed.
This was where the history of the Samaritans began. In place of the local inhabitants, they brought in people “Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria in place of the people of Israel; they took possession of Samaria, and settled in its cities.” (2 Kgs 17:24) They were no longer Israelites. Those who stayed behind intermarried with the foreigners. Whilst some kept their worship of Yahweh, they also assimilated the foreign gods, worship, customs, and cultures. “One of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and lived in Bethel; he taught them how they should worship the Lord. But every nation still made gods of its own and put them in the shrines of the high places that the people of Samaria had made.” (2 Kgs 17:28f)
Indeed, it is a stark reminder to us all that we are somehow responsible for our society, nation, and world history. We cannot pretend that the problems of society are not ours but theirs. If we are not involved in helping society to walk in the ways of God, in His truth and love, humanity will suffer the same fate. We will be destroyed because of moral decadence. This is just a repeat of history. Unfortunately, we never learnt the lessons of history. The world is going along this trend. World leaders are succumbing to the pressures of the people who want to have more freedom to do whatever they like. In secularism where there is a dictatorship in moral relativism, everything is permissible under the sun. We are already seeing the consequences of hedonism in the world. Our families are breaking apart. Marriage has lost its meaning and significance. Sexuality has been reduced to mere physical lust. Life is simply about making money, enjoying, and having fun.
Indeed, the world today places greater emphasis on the economy than on the moral health of the country. In order to be the best in the world, we permit all kinds of entertainment even when these contaminate the minds of our people, especially the young. Pornography is rampant, sexual crime is on the increase, drug abuse, insane violence, and terrorist acts, killings, and suicide are on the rise. At the expense of providing a holistic and moral life to our people, we strive only to be the best economically, in trade, in life sciences, and information technology, etc. What is the moral impact on the lives of our people? We have never seriously considered it because we want to win the approval of our people, even if the choices they make will lead to a gradual disintegration of the family and society.
Such objective judgment must be made on society and the world. We cannot be silent and blind to the moral depravity affecting our lives. Otherwise, we will reap what we sow. Humanity will eventually destroy itself even before the earth self-destructs because of climate warming. This is because of selfishness, individualism, and consumerism. We see the writings on the wall but society is blind and world leaders refuse to take cognizance of the implications of their political, economic, and social policies.
Just as we can and should make objective judgement on society and the world, we too are permitted to make objective judgment on people’s actions. However, what is not right is to pass subjective judgement on the individual’s conscience and guilt. This is simply because we do not have all the facts. At most, we have the external facts but we do not know the interior disposition and struggles of the individual. Our personal decisions and actions are not just a matter of personal choices but we are largely also determined by other factors, such as genetic, individual, and social factors such as our family background, our upbringing, our culture, our values, our own individual traits, and temperaments. Some of us are more prone to certain temptations than others because of the way we have been conditioned. Some of us have been abused and lack love and security.
Indeed, the Lord asked, “Why do you observe the splinter in your brother’s eye and never notice the plank in your own?” When we judge others, we are actually judging ourselves because our judgement of a person reveals how little we know about ourselves. We are not in the same situation as the person we are judging so how can we determine his guilt? It shows our ignorance. On the contrary, the Lord said, “How dare you say to your brother, “Let me take the splinter out of your eye”, when all the time there is a plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother’s eye.” If we only understand where they are coming from, the interior struggles they go through, then we will never judge the guilt of a sinner. Even Jesus refused to judge the adulterous woman.
Many who are living dishonest, immoral lives, taking drugs and cheating, and even involved in killing have been hurt and wounded by their loved ones and society. What they need are love and acceptance. As St Teresa of Calcutta once said, “For every illness, there are several medicines and treatments. But so long as there is no gentle hand swift to serve and no generous heart swift to cherish, I don’t think that a person can ever be healed of that terrible illness which is lack of love.” So we need to be gentle with them and give them our love. St Paul taught, “If anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.” (Gal 6:1)
Indeed, when we see the sin of our brothers, we must first ask whether we are committing the same sin. If we are, then we should not try to rebuke or correct them because those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. But even if we are not committing the same sins now but had done it before and now we have overcome it, then we should feel with the sinner and share with them gently our struggles and how we managed to overcome our sins. However, if we find ourselves never having committed the sin of our brother, then we should thank God for His grace because we could have fallen, or if we are not careful, we might fall into the same sin in the future. This is why the Lord said, “the judgements you will give are the judgements that you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given.” If we are compassionate, we will also be compassionate to ourselves because we can feel God’s compassion for us.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
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