Judge Not, Lest You be Judged
Thursday November 6, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Thirty-first Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 14:7-12) Gospel (St. Luke 15:1-10)
In the Gospel reading, Our Lord speaks to us about the joy in heaven over one repentant sinner, and how much joy we would give to God and to the holy angels over our repentance. At the same time, when we look in the first reading, we see Saint Paul telling us that we belong to the Lord, and more than that, that each one of us is going to stand before the judgment seat of God. We are all going to have to answer, he says, for ourselves. We will each give an account of ourselves before God, therefore, he asks the question: Why do you judge? Why do you look down on another? – which is what we tend to do all the time. The Fathers of the Desert tell us that our desire to judge is the very last thing to go before perfection, which means that it will probably be hanging on for most of us even when we are in purgatory because it is not an easy thing for us to overcome. We are constantly comparing ourselves to other people; and, almost universally, we like to judge ourselves as being better in some fashion or form. Even if we acknowledge that this person may be more intelligent or this person has more talent or whatever it may be than what we have, we will find something – it does not matter what it is – that makes us (at least in some way, shape, or form) just a little better or at least in some way that we can say, “But I’m equal with this person.” There was no doubt about that anyway. There are some things we are going to be good at, some things we are not. As persons we are all equal, and it is not up to us to judge.
Remember that we can make judgments about actions. We can say that this action is wrong or this one is right, but we cannot judge the person because we do not know what has happened in that person’s life and why the person might be acting the way that he or she is. It is not for us to judge. One of the privileges, if you want to look at it that way, that a priest has is not merely hearing the confessions of people but sometimes to be able to sit down with that person in a counseling type of session. When you know the pattern that has been there in that person’s life and suddenly they sit down and open up and tell you some of the history of their life, it makes perfect sense why the pattern of their sins is the way that it is. And every single time that happens, the exact thing that pops into my mind is what Our Lord said, Judge not lest you be judged, because all we can do is look at the actions and know that they are wrong, but once you hear what the person’s life has been, it puts the whole thing into a context. It does not make the actions right, but it helps to explain why the person is having trouble in those areas. When you look at it from a perspective like that, you sit back and say, “Thank goodness God is the judge because He knows what has happened to this person. He knows that it may not be something this person is doing on purpose or that they want to be doing.”
So we understand the brokenness. All of us have that within ourselves. We all have areas of habitual sin, and if we look back in our lives we can see where it started. We do not like it when someone else is judging us, so we need to be careful that we do not judge others. The reality of the matter, as Saint Paul tells us, is that we will stand before the judgment seat of God. Each one of us individually will stand before God. We will have to answer for what we have done or failed to do, as will everyone else. But what is more important for us is we know that we are not supposed to be judging everyone else. We know that we are not supposed to be looking down at others, but rather we are supposed to build them up. And so rather than looking at everyone else and thinking, “What a wonderful day it will be when this person finally repents and stops doing all these things,” maybe it is time that we start with ourselves and say, “Where am I judging? Where am I being condescending? Where am I being uncharitable? Where am I being arrogant or proud in whatever form?” Maybe it is not the other person who needs to repent because maybe the brokenness in that person actually renders the action morally neutral for them; but for us, we cannot have that kind of an excuse. Our pride, our judging, our arrogance, our selfishness, for that we need to repent. Rather than thinking of what a joy it will be in heaven when the other person repents, maybe we need to look just at ourselves and say, “There will be more rejoicing in heaven when this sinner repents than over those ninety-nine people who are broken and weak and doing all the things that they’re doing out of their brokenness and perhaps in that way have no need to repent.” That is a sobering thought when we look at it, but it helps us to put things in a perspective for ourselves and to constantly remind ourselves that the one sinner who needs to repent – more than any other – is the self.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.