06 May 2009

Thou Shalt Not Judge

How often we might find ourselves described by today's Gospel: "If anyone hears my words and does not observe them, I do not condemn them . . ." Our Lord speaks mercifully about those who listen to him but are unable to live out the Gospel virtues. Another translation reads, "I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them." Surely, when we heard the words of the Lord, we do not intend not to keep them, but sometimes we do not always respond to the grace offered us and we fail to follow the Lord as closely as we had intended. It is important to note that the Lord, in the face of our failings, offers us his mercy and he withholds judgment.

For most of us perhaps we can say that the challenge is not only the places in our own lives where we do not keep the Lord's words but actions of those around us: the opportunities we have to judge -- or to refrain from judging -- those in our midst who appear to us to have fallen short of keeping the Lord's words. When we observe the actions of another person -- at home, at work, in school -- we naturally tend to ascribe to him the motives we might have if we were in his shoes. Sometimes these motives are good and other times, if we are honest, they are not as pure as we might like them to be. The catch, however, is that while we can be certain about the motives we might have in a similar situation, we can never know the many factors which contributed to our neighbor's actions. For all we know, our neighbor may have been heroic in overcoming some other temptation and has fallen short in this other way which is visible to us. In all her humility, our neighbor does not share her "victory" over this or that temptation and all we know is what we have observed. The next time we are tempted to judge the actions of our neighbor, let us pray for the grace to respond in the gentle manner of Our Lord.

"Be sure then often to examine your dealings with your neighbor, whether your heart is right towards him, as you would have his towards you, were things reversed—this is the true test of reason. When Trajan was blamed by his confidential friends for making the Imperial presence too accessible, he replied, 'Does it not behoove me to strive to be such an emperor towards my subjects as I should wish to meet with were I a subject?'”
St. Francis de Sales

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