Reading 1 Rom 2:1-11

You, O man, are without excuse, every one of you who passes judgment. For by the standard by which you judge another you condemn yourself, since you, the judge, do the very same things. We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true. Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you hold his priceless kindness, forbearance, and patience in low esteem, unaware that the kindness of God would lead you to repentance? By your stubbornness and impenitent heart, you are storing up wrath for yourself for the day of wrath and revelation of the just judgment of God, who will repay everyone according to his works, eternal life to those who seek glory, honor, and immortality through perseverance in good works, but wrath and fury to those who selfishly disobey the truth and obey wickedness. Yes, affliction and distress will come upon everyone who does evil, Jew first and then Greek. But there will be glory, honor, and peace for everyone who does good, Jew first and then Greek. There is no partiality with God.

Gospel Lk 11:42-46

The Lord said: “Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others. Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces. Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.”Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

Reflection

Judgment weighs heavily in today’s readings, and indeed weighs heavily in the modern consciousness.
(Hypocrisy ahead)

(Hypocrisy ahead)

The modern mind finds comfort in avoiding judgment – nay, in asserting that judgment shall not be tolerated! – and, interestingly, assumes that Jesus agrees. It must be disturbing, then, to read what Jesus has to say. Woe to you Pharisees! This “Woe!” strikes most people as archaic.  No one says “Woe” anymore – probably because they are too busy avoiding judgment and judging, and judges. Yet it is terribly powerful.  It is not simply a casting of aspersion or a heaping on of shame.  It is a declaration of utter failure to meet God’s standards – indeed, of condemnation.  Far from avoiding judgment, Jesus jumps in with both (pierced) feet. You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. Paying a tithe was – and is – an outward sign of devotion to God and His commands.  It is good in and of itself.  The trap, as our Lord pointed out, is that we sometimes value the approbation of others who see us tithing more than the virtue of tithing itself.  Indeed, such a person “has his reward.” So Jesus acknowledges that the Pharisees did meet this exacting standard of God’s law.  They were doing something right.  But they spoiled it – how? The modern mind leaps by ellipses:  “You pay no attention…to love for God.”  And this they further associate with love of neighbor, which then only means some light charity for themselves and a heavy burden on others. But what is this?  “But you pay no attention to judgment”. It is also translated “you neglect justice,” which is nothing more than ascribing to each what properly belongs to him.  In other words, judgment. Now, why does the modern mind resist judgment so assiduously? First, because it confesses no fixed moral code.  All moral goods are flexible – every word can come to mean its opposite if there is enough honey on the tongue. Second, because in the absence of an objective moral code, the only remaining standard is social justification.  Thus, to be judged as unworthy by others, or evil, is the most severe punishment.  Better that no one should judge anyone!  And so a devious compact is implicitly signed. This, I say, is just as evil in the Lord’s eyes as judging unjustly.  The answer to poor judgment is not “no judgment” – it is better judgment.  Perfect judgment, if you can get it. These you should have done, without overlooking the others. This statement captures why Catholicism is neither conservative nor liberal.  Jesus does not say that tithing is meaningless, just as he does not say that the Old Testament is useless. Rather, he chooses not to wash before the meal because he wants to provoke a conversation, and ask the Pharisees:  Why do you wash before a meal, if your hearts are unclean? It points to a hypocrisy; it does not give license to its opposite, which is also hypocrisy.  (That is, feeling no malice in your heart, yet neglecting to be generous to the poor). Both!  Both are needed!  Neither is disposable.  Be generous with your heart and your wallet!  Be charitable with your words and your actions! In the first reading, then, St. Paul has done what I have tried to do, only better. We know that the judgment of God on those who do such things is true. Do you suppose, then, you who judge those who engage in such things and yet do them yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God? See, there is judgment that is true.  That perfect judgment we’re looking for, it comes from God Almighty – and fortunate for us that the One holding all the power also possesses all the justice! That being the case, we only have to trouble ourselves…about ourselves.  And yet we cannot, and we lay burdens on each other because the other does not meet our own, private standards. What is most interesting, to me, is the role of psychological projection.  That is, you are most likely to see in others precisely the sin you are guilty of.  Just when you are most sure that someone is evil, that they have committed some terrible offense – right then, check and see.  Is this something you are guilty of?  Do you struggle with the same evil? It is quite natural, after all, to ascribe to others that which motivates you.  I may compliment a woman’s dress, and all you hear is:  What?  Go ahead and answer. Now, what are the odds that you have correctly identified my motivation? It is a reliable rule, and I have seen it play out with the dumb and the intelligent:  If I make a “wrong” move, and I am accused of some great fault, I can reliably determine what sin my accuser is guilty of, or where his weaknesses lie. And if you’re paying especially close attention, you may think I have now contradicted myself.  After all – is judgment virtuous, or not?  On the one hand I say it is wanted in modern life, and on the other, I say that we are prejudiced (by our own sins) in our judgment of others.  Well, which is it? I turn the question back to you:  Can you not see your way out of this?  Both!  Both are needed!