REFLECTION ON THE EIGHTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
The Scripture readings from this reflection: Sirach 27: 4-7; Psalm 92: 2-3, 13-14, 15-16; 1 Corinthians 15:54-58; Luke 6:39-45
In our Gospel reading for the 8th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Jesus is preaching to a large crowd who has come not only from across Judea, but from Gentile regions as well. His message to the people, and to us, is a familiar one: Do not be so quick to judge your brother for his faults, for the splinter in his eye, when you may have even greater faults, is a wooden beam in your own eye.
Jesus is not saying that we should never judge. We were given an intellect and reason so that we can make judgments. If we see a child running after a ball that is rolling toward the street, we must judge that as a dangerous situation. We cannot be indifferent about it. And, we must act quickly on that judgment to protect the child from being injured. However, we are not judging the child. We are judging the action of the child based on the harm that could result.
Jesus says in today’s Scripture, “Remove the wooden beam from your eye first, then you will see clearly to remove the splitter from your brother’s eye.” In other words, we are not forbidden from recognizing and judging the actions of others, from admonishing the sinner, but we are forbidden from judging them as a person. Jesus is not ruling out our correcting another person out of love because of the danger in which they may be putting themselves. But rather, he is condemning having a critical spirit where we ignore our own faults, the wooden beam in our own eye. “Who am I to judge?” is a common phrase. But in its proper context, this phrase means
“Who am I to judge the state of another person’s soul, how they appear to God?” I cannot know the spiritual condition of anyone or judge them. That is something only God can do. However, we also cannot use the phrase, “Who am I to judge?” as an excuse to avoid making moral judgments as to whether or not an action is in accordance with God’s divine law for, in so doing, we fail to recognize the harm that it does to the person committing the act, to their family, and to society as a whole.
We stop a child from running into the street because we love and care for them. We judge the act of abortion as evil because it is the killing of an innocent child in the womb and it also causes terrible psychological and physical injury to the mother. Abortion harms not only those contributing to the act by their direct or indirect support, but it harms all of us. At its core, it is an extreme evil by which the devil seeks to destroy life created by God.
In the same manner, we must judge murder, pornography, adultery, hatred, and all acts which violate the Ten Commandments, as sinful. This is not only because they are morally wrong, but also because they destroy lives and families, and do great violence to the Kingdom of God.
We cannot judge the soul of another person. In fact, we are forbidden to judge them. We do not know the mental, psychological, or spiritual condition of a person when they did this or that. We can never know their personal culpability for any sin. That is left up to God alone.
Our response to others must always be one of love. In fact, we are commanded to respond in love. However, this does not mean that we overlook the act that was committed. Rather, we respond to them in a way that seeks to heal the mental and spiritual damage that they suffer because of sin. That can be hard to do, which is why we need the help of the Holy Spirit to know what to say and when. We do not have to compromise truth to be compassionate and caring. Loving someone does not mean that we accept everything they do, because that is not love. Real love is willing the good of another person. Accepting or ignoring behavior that is spiritually, emotionally, or physically harmful is not love.
But once again, we must take a good look at ourselves, at the wooden beam in our own eye. We are often quick to judge the faults of others, but much slower to see our own failings. However, knowing that we have a wooden beam in our own eye is not an excuse for inaction on our part. Rather, it should drive us to get our own spiritual house in order without delay, to take a good look at ourselves and our relationship with God, and to shake off the burdens of sin that are preventing us from helping others as we should. Thankfully, the Church gives us time to do just that. She gives us a special time to focus on removing the wooden beam from our own eye: It is called Lent.
Deacon Walter is assigned to St. Ann Parish, in Carthage.