Monday, June 21, 2010

Jesus Said: "Stop Judging, That You May Not Be Judged. For The Measure You Measure With Will Be Measured Back To You."

Monday of the Twelfth Week In Ordinary Time
Memorial of Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, religious
Reading I
2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18
Shalmaneser, king of Assyria, occupied the whole land
and attacked Samaria, which he besieged for three years.
In the ninth year of Hoshea, king of Israel
the king of Assyria took Samaria,
and deported the children of Israel to Assyria,
setting them in Halah, at the Habor, a river of Gozan,
and the cities of the Medes.

This came about because the children of Israel
sinned against the LORD,their God,
who had brought them up from the land of Egypt,
from under the domination of Pharaoh, king of Egypt,
and because they venerated other gods.
They followed the rites of the nations
whom the Lord had cleared out of the way
of the children of Israel
and the kings of Israel whom they set up.

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.
They rejected his statutes,
the covenant which he had made with their fathers,
and the warnings which he had given them, till,
in his great anger against Israel,
the LORD put them away out of his sight.
Only the tribe of Judah was left.
We continue today with the tragic tale of the Kings and the punishments they and their people experienced for their serious violation of the Lord’s will for them. We see in today’s reading the fall in 721 BC of the Northern Kingdom (variously called Israel, Samaria or the Ten Tribes, as opposed to the Southern Kingdom known also as Judah).

This all happened in the reign of King Hoshea, who reigned for nine years altogether. However, “he did evil in the sight of the Lord” although his behaviour was not as bad as some of his predecessors. He fell victim to an Assyrian invasion and became a vassal of the Assyrian King Shalmeneser. However, after violating the terms of his vassalage by sending envoys to the king of Egypt and failing to pay tribute to the Assyrians, he was arrested and thrown into prison.

The whole of Samaria was then invaded and the city of Samaria was captured. The well-defended city took three years to overcome. Shalmaneser died just before the capture - possibly by assassination - and the actual capture was effected by his son, Sargon II. In his annals Sargon laid claim to the capture of Samaria at the beginning of his reign, but it was hardly more than a mopping-up operation.

This spelt the end of Hoshea’s reign and it saw a major deportation of the Israelites to exile in Assyria. In his annals Sargon II claims to have deported 27,290 Israelites. They were brought to Halah, whose location is uncertain, but it was near the Habor, a river not far from Haran in the extreme north of Mesopotamia. (The name ‘Mesopotamia’ means ‘between rivers’ because it lies between the two great rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, and corresponds more or less to Iraq today). Gozan was an Assyrian provincial capital located on a tributary of the Euprhates. The “cities of the Medes” lay east of Mesopotamia (in Persia or Iran). They were towns located in the area south of the Caspian Sea and northeast of the Tigris River. The Israelite settlements there would form the background for the story of Tobit (which we read at another time in the liturgical cycle).

And so the second part of the reading is a commentary on why all of this happened. The events described in today’s readings are clearly attributed to the sins of Israelites against their God, the God who had brought them up out of the slavery of Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. In the Old Testament, things seldom happen by chance nor are purely human agencies involved. Good things indicate God’s blessings and bad things his displeasure.

It was due to the Samarians’ continual worship of the idols worshipped by their conquerors. (It seems that it was this kind of situation that Jesus was referring to when he told the Samaritan woman that she had had five “husbands”. Each time it was conquered by an invading force, Samaria had adopted the religion of its new masters.)

The accusations do not seem to come from one source but are a compilation of several. For the principal author of the book the grievous fault of Israel is the religious pluralism, an ‘original sin’ of which every king of Israel is accused. The language is rich in reminiscences of Deuteronomy and the prophets (especially Jeremiah) as it denounces religious compromise and the setting up of local and idolatrous shrines.

Israel repeatedly spurned the Lord’s graciousness to it and refused to heed the prophets’ warnings of impending judgement and had failed to keep her covenant obligations. The result was the implementation of the covenant curse precisely as it had been presented to the Israelites by Moses in his final words to the Israelites before they entered Canaan (Deuteronomy 28:49-68) and in the Song of Moses (Deuteronomy 32:1-47).

Israel not only violated the requirements of the Sinai covenant, but she also spurned the words of prophets the Lord had graciously sent to call his people back to the covenant as well as the ministries of Elijah, Elisha, Amos and Hosea. Instead they showed themselves “stiff-necked”, like a stubborn ox being placed under the yoke. (A phrase used by Jesus also when speaking of the Pharisees.)

Ultimately they experienced defeat and exile as “the Lord put them away out his sight”. All that was left was Judah, the Southern Kingdom which included the city of Jerusalem and elements of the tribes of Simeon and Benjamin. Its behaviour was not much better and it would not escape either. Further on, but not in our reading, a second addition extends the condemnation to Judah, the Southern Kingdom.

In our own lives we do need to be careful about attributing to God’s anger or vindictiveness painful experiences in our lives or in the lives of others. One hears the scourge of AIDS described as God’s punishment on the sexually promiscuous. Yet many of those who contract the virus are totally innocent e.g. people who unknowingly received transfusions of tainted blood or babies born to an HIV-positive mother, who herself may have been the unknowing victim of a wayward husband. It is unthinkable that God punishes the innocent for the sins of others.

Nevertheless, sinful acts consistently indulged in are undoubtedly destructive of individuals and communities. But the effects arise out of the disordered nature of the acts themselves rather than as a direct act of God. And they are warnings to us that we have strayed from the paths of truth, love and integrity.

We have no one to blame but ourselves.*
+++    +++    +++    +++
Psalm 60
Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.
O God, you have rejected us and broken our defenses;
you have been angry; rally us!
Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.
You have rocked the country and split it open;
repair the cracks in it, for it is tottering.
You have made your people feel hardships;
you have given us stupefying wine.
Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.
Have not you, O God, rejected us,
so that you go not forth, O God, with our armies?
Give us aid against the foe,
for worthless is the help of men.
Help us with your right hand, O Lord, and answer us.
+++    +++    +++    +++
Matthew 7:1-5
Jesus said to his disciples:
“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?
How can you say to your brother,
‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’
while the wooden beam is in your eye?
You hypocrite,
remove the wooden beam from your eye first;
then you will see clearly
to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”
We begin today the last chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged”, that is, by God. This is a good example of Matthew using an impersonal passive voice to avoid mentioning the name of God which is understood. Another example is where he has Jesus say, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they will be forgiven” [by God].

Jesus today touches on an issue in which very few of us can claim innocence - passing judgment on others. Sometimes we call it gossip which seems harmless enough and very often it is relatively harmless. And yet at times we can spend a long time tearing other people apart, revealing to others information about people which they do not need to know. What Jesus says is so true. We focus on a tiny speck in someone else’s eye while there is a large plank in our own.

In fact, that is probably why we are so fond of indulging in this exercise. Our purpose is not so much to bring another person down as to bring ourselves up. Often those we judge are higher placed than we are or more gifted or more educated. To some extent unconsciously, we feel inferior. One way to even things up is to bring them down, to reveal their feet of clay.

But, as Jesus says, this is a kind of hypocrisy. Given our own faults, what right have we to sit in judgement on another? So often our judgements are based on the purely external or on incomplete evidence. We condemn acts while being quite ignorant of the motives behind the acts. Only God is in a position to make an accurate judgement of a person’s strengths or weaknesses.

Linked with all this is the fact that, nine times out of ten, we would never make our criticisms face to face. This, on the one hand, is a form of cowardice and, on the other, proves our hypocrisy because we make no effort to help the person make the changes we would like to see. It might be a good resolution for us to promise only to criticise people to their face and then in a non-judgmental fashion. And to give them an opportunity to express their side. Sometimes we will find that our criticisms are without real foundation or we will find the person grateful for drawing attention to something they were unaware of.

And removing that plank from our eye is another way of saying that, before we make any evaluation of another, we need to be sure that our view is totally free from any prejudice or bias. We do have a serious responsibility to draw attention to things that people do wrong, especially if others or they themselves are hurt, but it is a responsibility we often shirk. Gossiping behind their backs is so much more fun. But, in the long run, it helps no one.*

The Irish Jesuits

1 comment:

Sarah in the tent said...

'Remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly'

This is such a strange image. Why did Our Lord not say something like, for example: 'get into some good, strong light' or 'wipe the sleep from your eyes' or even 'remove the scales from your eyes' (although no-one can be expected to remove their own cataracts!). The idea of scales falling from the eyes vividly describes Paul's conversion, but I can't even imagine a person walking around with a wooden beam in his eye!

It is a small leap of the imagination from a wooden beam to the cross. St Paul's conversion led him to preach 'Christ crucified' (1 Cor). For Christians, the cross ceases to be a sign of everything awful in the human condition (a cruel or absent God, man's inhumanity to man, the inevitability of death and defeat ...) and becomes a sign of God's love, presence, human dignity and triumph over death. As we come to understand the cross, it is no longer a beam of wood in our eye, but a beam of light.

'You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.'

Paul was not present to hear these words, but they could have been spoken to him, because he seems to have acted on them.