Sunday, March 26, 2017

’Making Judgments’ versus ‘Judging Souls’

(Fourth Sunday of Lent (A): This homily was given on March 26, 2017 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani.  Read 1 Samuel 16: 1-13; John 9:1-41.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fourth Sunday of Lent 2017]

“Making judgments” versus “Judging souls”.

That’s a distinction—a very important distinction—that Dr. Edward Sri makes in his book, Who am I to Judge?

The problem is, not enough other people in the world today are making this distinction.  Consequently, in 2017, if you dare to point out that somebody’s action is wrong or sinful, in most instances you’ll immediately be accused of “judging” that person!  And if Christians are the ones doing the accusing, they’ll usually follow up their accusation with a quote from Jesus, who once said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

You might even be accused of hating the person in question, simply because you’ve pointed out their sin and expressed your disapproval of what they’ve done.

Dr. Sri would say that this kind of verbal exchange happens so often these days because so many modern men and women have confused “Making judgments” with “Judging souls.” 

Judging souls is what we’re forbidden to do.  That’s what Jesus meant—that’s what Jesus was getting at—when he said, “Judge not lest ye be judged.”

To judge another person’s soul is to pretend to know where they stand in their relationship with God.  It’s to imply that you know whether they are in the state of grace or in the state of mortal sin—hence whether they would go to heaven or hell if they died at this moment. 

But we can never know those things as human beings—because we’re not God!  As today’s first reading reminds us, only the Lord sees into the heart.  Even if another person has done something that’s objectively seriously sinful, we can’t know whether or not they’re fully culpable for that sin before God.  As Dr. Sri says in his book, “A soul’s status before God is something between that person and God alone.  Various factors in people’s lives may impair their free choices in such a way that limits their culpability or moral guilt. As Pope Francis explains, ‘Each person’s situation before God and their life in grace are mysteries which no one can fully know from without.’”

Making judgments, on the other hand, is a totally different story.  Making judgments is something we do all the time.  We do it about moral matters and pretty much everything else in life!  Whether you realize it or not, you’re even making judgments right now, during this homily.  You’re making a judgment as to whether it’s good, or bad—or worse!  You’re making judgments as to whether or not you like it, whether or not it’s too long, whether or not it’s boring, and whether or not you agree with what I’m saying.

And that’s normal.  That’s human.  That’s to be expected.

At this point I should let you know that if you do make the judgment that my homily this morning is lousy, too long, incredibly boring—and that you agree with none of it—I promise you that I will not interpret that to mean that you hate me.

And yet, as Dr. Sri points out in his book, that’s the logic that many people today follow—people who confuse “making judgments” with “judging souls”.  They think you hate them, if you make a judgment that a behavior they’ve engaged in is wrong or sinful.

Don’t believe me?

Just tell your friends at work or in school that homosexual actions are sinful, and see what kind of response you get.  In all likelihood, at least some of them will accuse you of hating gay people and “judging them”.  Now in reality you may not have a hateful bone in your entire body.  But that doesn’t matter.  You’ve made a judgment that something they’ve done is wrong, so you hate them.  Period.

That’s the logic.

A couple of years ago I was talking with a college student about this very issue, and I was trying to help him understand that you can vehemently disagree with someone’s behavior without hating the person. 

And I was getting nowhere. 

Finally I said to him, “Let me ask you a question.  Do your parents love you?”

He said, “Of course they do.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“Well," I said, "do your parents approve of everything you do?”

He smiled a little, and said, “No.”

I said, “Then they must hate you!  You’re saying to me that Catholics hate gays 
because they disapprove of some of the things that gay people do.  Well, according to that logic, your parents must hate you, because they sometimes disapprove of some of the things that you do.”

I think that finally opened his eyes to the truth—at least to some extent.

I mention all this today because our readings this morning present us with an example of someone making a judgment, as well as an example of a group of people judging a soul.

In today’s first reading the prophet Samuel makes a judgment.  Unfortunately it ends up being the wrong judgment, but it’s a judgment nonetheless.  One day God tells Samuel to go to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem in order to anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel.

So Samuel goes.  When he gets there, he immediately meets Eliab, one of Jesse’s eight sons.  Now we’re not told much about this particular boy in the text, but I think it’s pretty safe to assume that he was, physically speaking, a very impressive character—because when Samuel sees him the first thing he does is MAKE A JUDGMENT!  He makes the judgment that this must be the one the Lord has chosen.  He was probably saying to himself, “This has to be the guy.  He even looks like a king!”

Of course, as so often happens, the Lord chooses the least likely candidate for the job—in this case, David.

We see the appearance; the Lord sees into the heart.

Which brings us to today’s gospel story about the healing of a man who had been blind from birth.  Here we encounter an example of a group of people judging a soul.

In the minds of first century Jews, there was a direct connection between sin and suffering.  Consequently, if you were suffering with an infirmity like blindness (as this man was), it meant that either you—or someone very close to you—must be guilty of committing a serious sin—or a number of serious sins.  Now it’s clear from the story that even the Apostles believed this at the time, because when they saw the blind man the first thing they asked Jesus was, “Whose sin caused this man’s blindness?  Was it his own sin, or was it the sin of his parents?”

They made a judgment, and, as was the case with Samuel, the judgment was wrong.  Jesus said to them, “Neither he nor his parents sinned …”

But the Pharisees took it one step further—which was the real problem.  They not only made the erroneous judgment that this man was blind because he had done something seriously sinful, they also—from all external indications—judged the man’s soul.  They pretended to know where the guy stood in his relationship with God—something which was impossible to know (as I indicated earlier).  This attitude of judgment came through most clearly in the last thing the Pharisees said to the healed man before they tossed him out of the synagogue.  They said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and are you trying to teach us?”  In other words, “You’re obviously someone that God doesn’t love—since he caused you to be born blind.  As far as we’re concerned, you’re on your way to hell.  So who are you to be giving us lectures?  We’re the chosen ones.  We’re the enlightened ones.  We’re the ones God loves!”

Making judgments/Judging someone’s soul

The first is okay to do—even when you’re making a judgment about one of my homilies.

The second is never okay to do—even when the person in question is considered to be a terrible sinner.

Two principles to remember, and, even more importantly, two principles to try to live by.