Image: Fog shrouded valley along the Dempster Highway
When I first joined the Redemptorists, the religious congregation to which I belong, I was a frequent member of our SERVE team, which welcomed university students into our community, for six weeks each summer, to learn about faith, service, and community life.
One morning, during the program, we woke up to a late spring ice storm which had knocked out all the power in the neighborhood. As we sat around the breakfast table, and surveyed the winter wonderland through the windows, the last of our group came in, after having slept late through her alarm which had not gone off due to the power outage.
She began to talk, at some length, about how much we rely on electricity and that it was good we had moments like these, once in a while, to realize how much we take it for granted. It was a minor rant on her part but what caught our attention was not so much the words she spoke but that all the time she was speaking she went through the motions of taking out two slices of bread, placing them in the toaster and pushing down the plunger. As the slices hit the bottom of the inert appliance she looked up and saw that we were all staring at the toaster. Only then did she realize that she was guilty of the very thing she was preaching about.
Today’s gospel is about judgement, or more specifically, how to exercise good judgement. Let us be clear, Jesus is not saying that we should never judge. Exercising judgement is a necessary part of what it takes to live in human society. We constantly monitor the written and unwritten rules of our culture and make judgements about our actions and behaviours, and those of other people, in order to make sure we conform to those rules. Most of this we do not do consciously, it just something that we have learned to do in order to get along with other people. Jesus’ concern, is that it is far too easy to skip the first step, looking at our own behaviour and, instead, focus entirely to much on the actions of others.
The story I shared shows how easy it is to have blind spots, and we all have them. Why we have them is not clear. I took a course for a semester at university called the psychology of self-deception and, at the end of the course and several hundred dollars poorer, I was not any wiser about the matter. What is evident is that, as individuals, we are good at rationalizing our own behaviour, making excuses for the things we do and basically holding ourselves to a different standard of accountability then we do when looking at our neighbour.
Jesus was reminding his disciples, and us, that if we are going to be preaching about conversion of hearts, we had better well be aware of our own faults and limitations first. We are often so busy trying to make sense of the world around us that we fail to take adequate time to look inside and make sure our own house is in order first.
The Christian religion is often criticized for being overly judgemental and too rule bound. Perhaps the fault lies not in the standards of the religion itself, though they are admittedly high. Instead it could be that those who profess to be Christian do not hold those standards so much for themselves as they do for others. In a quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi he says, “I love your Christ, it is you Christians I have trouble with”.
The highest rule in our faith is mercy. If we take time to realize how much God loves us despite our own personal flaws and weaknesses, and how much we have been forgiven despite the logs in our eyes, then we will be in a place to judge properly, with mercy, the way that God judges us.