EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (2019)
Psalms 92:2-3, 13-16
1 Corinthians 15:54-58
It is worth asking, if I am not supposed to judge my brothers and sisters, then how can I discern what is good or bad? After all, it was only last week when we heard Jesus proclaim in Sunday’s gospel, “Stop judging and you will not be judged.” In our earthly pilgrimage true discernment is an absolute necessity if we are not to be led astray by the things of this world. Surely Jesus is not suggesting that we abandon genuine discernment of what is good or what is bad?
We know from Jesus’ teaching enshrined in the gospels, especially His parables, that His disciples are encouraged to develop discernment, a ‘judgement’ of sorts, about what is good and what is bad, about what is right and what is wrong. Jesus’ exhortation to “stop judging” is not aimed at people’s discernment. Rather, it is aimed at the tendency of some to move from that discernment about peoples’ actions or words, to a judgement about the person’s goodness or lack thereof. It is the hypocrisy of judging that Jesus attacks, something we see so often in his confrontations with the Scribes and Pharisees. With Thomas Aquinas we believe that hypocrisy is a sin against truth, for we so often want to seem to be what we are not. When we judge others it is as though we have forgotten how sinful we ourselves are. An honest assessment of our own lives should cause us to realize that only God is devoid of sinfulness, and God alone is capable of judging.
We all surely know people “who relish punishing the least sins of those who are put under them, [but] leave their own [sins] unpunished” (Desert Father Theophylact). They are the “blind guides” spoken of by Jesus in Luke’s gospel. Saint Basil the Great spoke of the importance of self-reflection calling it “most important” for the Christian. Basil states that very often “not only the eye, looking at outward things, fails to use its sight upon itself, but our understanding also, though very quick in apprehending the sin of another, is slow to perceive its own defects.” Jesus’ comic image of a person with a “wooden beam” in their own eye trying to remove the “splinter” in a brother’s eye is striking, and highlights the hypocrisy of those excessively concerned about other’s faults while doing nothing to better one’s own life.
Today’s readings also instruct us to share our Christian life, love, and spiritual health by our words, and to avoid gossiping about, and passing rash, thoughtless and pain-inflicting judgments on others, thus damaging their good reputation and causing them irreparable harm. As our first reading from the Book of Sirach asserts: “The fruit of a tree shows the care it has had; so too does one’s speech disclose the bent of one’s mind. Praise no one before he speaks, for it is then that people are tested.” The agricultural imagery is also in our Responsorial Psalm where we are told we will “flourish” if we are “planted in the house of the Lord.” Those who live in the Lord “shall bear fruit even in old age.” That same agricultural imagery is used by Jesus who reminds His disciples that “a good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. For every tree is known by its own fruit.”
St. Bede the Venerable spoke clearly of how our words and deeds manifest what lies deep within a person, stating that “the treasure of the heart is the same as the root of the tree. A person who has a treasure of patience and of perfect charity in his heart yields excellent fruit; he loves his neighbor and has all the other qualities Jesus teaches; he loves his enemies, does good to him who hates him, blesses him who curses him, prays for him who calumniates him, does not react against him who attacks him or robs him; he gives to those who ask, does not claim what they have stolen from him, wishes not to judge and does not condemn, corrects patiently and affectionately those who err.”
Jesus calls us and His disciples today, in the words of our second reading, to “be firm, steadfast, always fully devoted to the work of the Lord.” To be fully ‘rooted’ in the Lord, will guard us against the dangers of rashly judging others, and will give us the mirror image of Jesus which we can use to measure ourselves, in order that we might see ourselves as God sees us. Truly living in the Lord will dispel any chance of falling victim to the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Paharisees, and it will cause us to be “fully trained,” becoming like the most excellent of teachers, our Lord, Jesus Christ.