October 12, 2005 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-eighth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (Romans 2:1-11) Gospel (St. Luke 11:42-46)
In both of the readings today, we hear about the judgment of God, Our Lord Himself telling us that the scribes and Pharisees will pay tithes on mint and rue and every garden herb but pay no attention to judgment and to love of God. So it is paying attention to the little, minute details of the law but refusing to pay attention to what is most important, that is, to the love of God and the recognition that we are going to be judged according to what it is that we do. Saint Paul also makes it crystal clear that this is the situation. And, I think, in a point that is extremely important especially for non-Catholic Christians where they keep telling us over and over and over again that it is based solely on faith that we are going to be judged, Saint Paul says explicitly right in the reading that we just heard from the second chapter of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Romans (which was the central letter for Martin Luther, more important than the Gospels, and in fact the most important book in the entire Scripture as far as Martin Luther was concerned) that God will repay everyone according to his works; not according to his faith, but according to his works. We have to have faith; there is no doubt. But, as Saint James says, Faith without works is dead. We have to act upon the faith that we have. So what Saint Paul is telling us is that we cannot judge because if we try to sit in judgment of others then we are calling down judgment upon ourselves.
How often, as he points out, do we judge others harshly regarding the very same things that we ourselves do? God has an interesting way when we find ourselves standing in judgment of someone else, saying things like “How could this person possibly do something like that? They know better than that. I can’t believe….” On and on and on we go. Well, God is very gracious, and about two to three weeks later we will do the exact same thing that we were just condemning someone else for doing. Of course, then we have all kinds of excuses for why it was okay for us to do.
That is the kind of attitude we have to have toward others, to find ways to excuse them, to find reasons for why they might have done what they were doing rather than to condemn them, because if we are going to condemn them we are condemning ourselves. And so when the Lord shows us why somebody might do some of the things they do, that is when we realize that we just simply need to pray. We need to mind our own business, not everybody else’s. We simply need to practice charity. It is the judgment of God that we have to be concerned about, not whether or not we have the opportunity to judge somebody else, because we have no business judging anybody else; it is not ours to do.
Again, having said that, remember the clear distinction that needs to be there. We can and we must judge actions – we cannot judge the person. We do not know the motives of the individual, we do not know what was in their heart, we do not know the internal circumstances, but we can certainly look at the action and say that the action is right or the action is wrong. That we can judge, the person we cannot. It is a very important distinction because we live in a society where if you try to point out somebody’s wrong action, their immediate response is “You can’t judge.” As long as you are not judging them but their action, you are doing just fine.
But, at the same time, we need to leave the judgment of the person to God because He is the One Who will judge us, and the Lord made very clear to us that the standard by which we measure is going to be used to measure us. So if we are going to stand in arrogant condemnation of others then arrogant condemnation is going to be ours. If we extend mercy and kindness to others, mercy and kindness will be ours. It is just that simple. What we really need to simply focus on is just the love of God and the love of neighbor because that is what we were commanded to do by Our Lord anyway, and that is what is most important. If we love, we will be loved. If we stand in judgment, we are going to be judged. We have to make the choice. We cannot stand arrogantly in judgment of others and think that God is going to pat us on the back and tell us what a wonderful job we did for condemning everybody else. If we do not want to be condemned, we cannot condemn. If we do not want to be judged harshly, we cannot be judging harshly. If we want mercy, we must extend mercy. And if we want to enter into the love of God for eternity then we need to begin by entering into the love of God and practicing it even now.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.