Today's first reading from the letter of St. James is an uncomfortable reminder to most of us who are inclined to "size up" a person during a first encounter. A person's external appearance -- the rings to which St. James refers -- the way he speaks, walks, etc., can tell the observer many things. We might be tempted to speculate about a person's education, family background, work experience, etc. For some people, these "judgments" come naturally, quickly and often uninvited. Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character, Sherlock Holmes, is the epitome of such swift and, in his case, accurate judgments.
The Lord would invite us not to nurture such judgments. At times it is necessary to use observable facts to make a judgment or a decision: when hiring an employee, choosing a new roommate, and the like. For most of us, however, our day to day encounters with our neighbors do not find us in a decision making capacity. We are challenged to look beyond a person's external appearance and comportment and to receive our neighbor as warmly as we would receive Christ. When we receive our neighbor with an open heart we are much more likely to think about and speak about our neighbor in a kindly manner and in doing so, we might just change the world, one kind thought at a time.
"Rash judgment engenders anxiety, contempt of our neighbor, self-complacency, and a hundred other most pernicious effects. Among these, slander, the true bane of society holds the first place. . . . He that could deliver the world from slander would free it from a great share of its sins and iniquity."
St. Francis de Sales