Sunday, June 19, 2016

The Wooden Beam

And though the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and seer, “Give up your evil ways and keep my commandments and statutes, in accordance with the entire law which I enjoined on your fathers and which I sent you by my servants the prophets,” they did not listen, but were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who had not believed in the LORD, their God.  2 Kings 17:13-14

“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?”  Matthew 7:1-3

Alas, alas for you
Lawyers and Pharisees
Hypocrites that you be
Searching for souls and fools to forsake them
You travel the land you scour the sea
After you've got your converts you make them
Twice as fit for hell!
As you are yourselves!
Alas, alas for you
-          Alas For You Lyrics from Godspell Soundtrack (1990).  Composer and Lyricist: Stephen Schwartz Librettist: John-Michael Tebelak

Sometimes the Good News has deep historical and theological nuances to unravel to find the true meaning of a particular passage.  Not today.  Today is pretty straightforward – looking right down the line of “do as I say not as I do.”  The specific lesson today is about judging others.  Matthew zeroes in on the correlation between our conduct toward others and God’s conduct toward us. Matthew warns against passing judgment in a spirit of arrogance, forgetful of our own faults.

This goes beyond the basic message of change and repentance.  Surely we have to give up our evil ways.  However, in doing do, we also cannot throw stones if we live in the proverbial glass house. 

In her book The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, reminds us of the basics of a Christian community.  It is not to be the judge or jury.  Rather it is to be the humble servant.

We must learn to listen to what God is saying in our simple, sometimes insane and always uncertain daily lives. Bitter zeal is that kind of religious fanaticism that makes a god out of religious devotion itself. Bitter zeal walks over the poor on the way to the altar. Bitter zeal renders the useless invisible and makes devotion more sacred than community. Bitter zeal wraps us up in ourselves and makes us feel holy about it. Bitter zeal renders us blind to others, deaf to those around us, struck dumb in the face of the demands of “dailiness.” Good zeal, monastic zeal, commits us to the happiness of human community and immerses us in Christ and surrenders us to God, minute by minute, person by person, day after day after day. Good zeal provides the foundation for the spirituality of the long haul. It keeps us going when days are dull and holiness seems to be the stuff of more glamorous lives, of martyrdom and dramatic differences. But it is then, just then, when Benedict of Nursia reminds us from the dark of the sixth century that sanctity is the stuff of community in Christ and that any other zeal, no matter how dazzling it looks, is false. Completely false.

Judging others – no matter what the era – is false.  We should concentrate on making sure our behavior is aligned with what God is asking of us alone.

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