06/20/22 Gospel Reflection on Matthew 7:1-5
“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.” (Matt 7:1–2 NABRE)
The Lord is making a difficult demand in the Gospel. Stop judging everyone around you, so that you may not be judged. That word “judge” in Greek is krinō (κρίνω). It means to “decide,” in a legal sense, to “convict” or “condemn”. Another way of saying this could be; “Stop trying and condemning the actions of others or the manner and reasons for which you condemn will be applied to you.” Yikes!
I spent some time on the Iraq - Iran Border during the Iraq conflict. My job was to assist in training the Iraqi Border Forces to secure the border. It was clear that the sheiks and their tribes all along the border had been involved in smuggling for centuries as they moved their families and flocks back and forth between Iraq and Iran. I was obviously more interested in terrorists, arms, and ammunition that were indiscriminately killing so many people.
In my mission, given I was very far away from the center of operations in Baghdad, at the seeming “edge of the world”, I rapidly surmised that I was on my own and needed to make do with what forces I had. As my Commander told me; “don’t start anything out here that you can’t finish”. It was clear, there would be no Cavalry to come to the rescue.
My predecessor had an “us versus them” perspective in almost everything he did. It clearly generated a level of hate that was palpable as I visited our troops, allies, and even our potential adversaries hiding in civilian clothing. He made a blanket assumption that all Iraqis in the area were terrorists or supported the insurgency. They were condemned in his eyes. They were the enemy. The Iraqis in our area, in turn, condemned him, and all the allied forces, as being there to establish American control over the Iraqi people. Neither assumption was even remotely true; yet, because each side had objectified the other, made the other one dimensional, void of any real personality, not really people with complex motives and fears surrounding them, certainly not anyone worth knowing, it became easy to judge, easy to hate, and even easier to kill. They were condemned as they condemned us.
As I assumed the mission, our chaplain gave a homily on this Gospel. As I considered what he said, it struck me that we were doing exactly what the Lord asked us not to do. We were judging, condemning people with very little understanding of their lives, hopes, dreams. This measure of indifference, perhaps even hate, we measured out to people we did not even know, was measured back in kind to me, to my command. From that day, I vowed to get to know, personally, as much as was possible, the people I was sent to help. Really, to love my neighbor. Using that word, “love”, as St Thomas Aquinas defined it as, “willing their good”. I could not “will their good” without knowing them, knowing what made them who they are.
Each day I made a commitment to eat one meal with the Iraqi people around me. Arab custom is that any shared meal or meeting must begin with a conversation that has nothing to do with business. So, I set out to get to understand the hopes and fears of the individuals and families that I was meeting in my travels around sector. I learned names and spoke enough Arabic to be courteous. In great, and often funny conversations over tea, I learned a lot about sheep herding, farming, tribe and family dynamics, and individual and communal anxiety. They in turn learned a lot about me. We got to know each other as people. I stopped condemning them, seeing them as people, and they saw me as a friend. What I found was that, for the most part, we were not all that different, and we could work together to make the border a safe place to work, to send children to school, and to raise families. Knowing this, we became one in purpose and in mission. What I measured out to others was returned to me in kind.
The Lord constantly reminds us that we are to love one another first and last. He tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us; “That you may be children of your heavenly Father,” (Matt 5:44–45). To love, even the unlovable, is to be children of the Father bound for heaven.
The Lord is not telling us that we should not discern between good and evil. He isn’t telling us that we should not, when necessary and with great love, help someone to see and overcome sin. He is telling us that we cannot condemn and treat others as objects, without understanding what they are struggling with, and who they are as a person, uniquely created and loved by God. Would we not want the same consideration to be extended to us?
The Lord is telling us to accompany others in love, not to condemn them. For if we really thought about it, we too, have much to be condemned for. Thanks be to God; condemning is not our job. How could we condemn? We cannot ever know the heart of the other. St Paul writes to the Romans;
“Why then do you judge your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (Rom 14:10 NABRE)
Condemning is God’s job. The Gospel antiphon that you hear before each Gospel, between the “alleluias”, usually sets forth the important teaching for the Mass readings. For this Gospel it is:
“The word of God is living and effective, [sharper than any two-edged sword] able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)
Only God knows our hearts and from the beginning of time, He chose not to condemn anyone but in his infinite mercy, to save. In the Gospel of John, we hear;
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:17 NABRE).
How can we say we love God and turn to condemn those whom God loves enough to die for them? We cannot! Next time we are in the mood to condemn someone, we should pray;
As I sit uncomfortably in judgement, Lord, forgive me. Let me speak and act with mercy and love that you will judge me gently. Yes, I believe in your love, justice, and mercy for everyone, including me. In this, I trust in you, my God!
Image from Hall, Edith. “Mosaic in St. Mark's Venice.” The Edithorial, 26 May 2017, http://edithorial.blogspot.com/2017/05/she-gods-of-justice-ancient-modern.html. Accessed 18 June 2022.
New American Bible. Revised Edition. Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.