Saturday, September 5, 2009

"Do not judge; or you will be judged"

HOMILY FOR THE 23RD SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 6, 2009:

Our second reading from the Letter of James today gives us a big challenge. James wrote, “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ…have you not made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil designs?” It seems to be deep in our human nature to want judge people by appearances. If they drive the right car, wear the right clothes, and know the right people, we think well of them. If not, we look down on them. Media perceptions help to drive this view. TV and movies thrive on appearances, on good looks, on images, sounds, and headlines that capture our attention at first glance - media is by nature superficial; reinforcing the temptation to judge by appearance. But that's not how Jesus judges people. That's not how Jesus thinks of us.

This is what St. James reminds us of: Jesus values us not because of what we look like, how much money we have, or how popular we are. Jesus looks deeper. What matters to Jesus is not what we have, but who we are: children of God, created in His image and likeness, and in need of His saving grace. And if that's what matters to Jesus, then that's what ought to matter to us members of His Church.

That's why St. James drives home the lesson that we should treat all people with respect, regardless of what they look like or what they can do for us. Jesus died on the cross not out of a generic love for humankind, but out of a specific, unconditional, redeeming love for every single person; for you and for me. As His followers, we are called to imitate His universal love which goes beyond mere appearances.

One of the most famous examples of God's looking deeper is found in the story of King David. King Saul, the first king of Israel, had become corrupt. When his corruption led him into disobedience to God, the prophet Samuel was instructed to remove the blessing from Saul and anoint a new king. God led Samuel to a shepherd named Jesse, in Bethlehem. Jesse had seven sons, one of whom God would choose.

Samuel was impressed by the first son, and even more impressed with each subsequent one. But as he met them one by one, the Lord kept telling him that this was not the one he had chosen.

God spoke to Samuel's saying: “Take no notice of his appearance or his height for I have rejected him; God does not see as you see; you look at appearances but the Lord looks at the heart.” When they had gone through all of Jesse's grown sons, Samuel had still not found God’s choice. Samuel asked if he had any more sons, and Jesse said that there was one more, a mere boy, who was out tending the sheep. Samuel sent for him, and even though he was just a boy, weak and small, he turned out to be the one God had chosen to become the greatest king of the Old Testament and the ancestor of the Messiah: King David. Jesus looks beyond appearances; He thinks and loves at a deeper level.

If we reflect on this truth, it gives us a new insight into one of Christ's most difficult commandments from Matthew’s Gospel: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Our fallen human nature tends to make us harsh critics of our neighbors. But Jesus warns us to combat this tendency. He knows that we are not good judges or fair judges. We cannot see into people's hearts, the way He can. We cannot see all the factors that go into making a person be the way they are. We cannot see people's intentions, hopes, and struggles. But, God sees the interior world that makes people do what they do.

Consider how forgiving we are towards ourselves. When someone criticizes us, what's our reaction? Immediately, we can explain ourselves. We point out factors or aspects that the other person doesn't know or see. We protect and defend ourselves from criticism. And why? Because we can see much more of our own hearts and minds than other people can see. But when we notice a fault, flaw, or mistake in someone else, we typically don't make excuses for them; we jump on them and judge them.

By admonishing us not to judge our neighbors, James and Jesus remind us that our neighbors have just as complex an interior world as we do: they have their struggles, their points of view, their hidden difficulties. And we are invited to follow Jesus’ example of not judging by appearances, but by faith – a far more forgiving measure.

The best example is the one we come together to celebrate today: the Eucharist. On the outside, if we were to judge its appearance, it is not all that impressive – just a thin piece of bread, and so much wine. But, as always, the deeper reality is the more important – and on that level it is the very Body and Blood of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; it is God’s true and real presence in our midst. And that makes all the difference.

Let us pray to see as God sees; to forgive as God forgives; to love as God loves; ad to look not at mere appearance, but in the depths of the heart. “My brothers and sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”

May the Lord give you peace.

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