Today’s Gospel is about judgment. People have a hard time dealing with judgment, at least people have a hard time being on the “judged” end of judgment.
Paul Ricoeur in his book, The Symbolism of Evil, explores the cluster of experiences that make up the experience of sin and judgment. They are: DEFILEMENT, ANXIETY, SHAME AND GUILT.
Something happens and we feel violated, dirty, angry AND we have done nothing wrong. It is the feeling when you realize that your house has been burgled. You enter the house and what had been home is suddenly alien and you feel like you need to take a shower.
In the Peanuts comic strip, Snoopy, the beagle, used to kiss Lucy on the mouth, just so he could see her spit and yell about “dog germs.” I had a similar experience with my sister when she was little. One day the family dog kissed her on the mouth. She got hysterical over the “dog germs” and could not be pacified until I gave her a slug of Listerine which tasted so bad that she just knew that the germs were dead. In reality a dog’s mouth has less germs than a human one, but she “felt” defiled.
- ANXIETY – EXISTENTIAL:
One day when I was a young child, mother was going to the barn to milk the cows. The milk bucket was face down on the well curb where it had been left to drain. When she picked the bucket up a copper-head snake was coiled under it. To this day I remember instant anxiety that produced. It is no accident that the symbol of evil is not an elephant.
Existential anxiety is the realization that, “We won’t always be here!” The day finally comes when the truth occurs to us that not only do other people die, but so will we. Much of this anxiety is unconscious and becomes “bound.” Or in other words the society is deeply anxious and looking for a quick fix that usually promotes anxiety rather than cures it.
Feeling of being “bad” – painful feelings of having lost the respect or regard of another person. This may or may not be the result of behavior. It is inner directed. It feels like a stain on ones sense of self. Often shame is given as much as it is earned.
These are the rules. If you keep the rules you are ok, if you break the rules then you are a bad person and must be punished. We often resist that being true so that we do not have to feel the pain. But all of us have done things years ago that trouble us even today.
- Defilement – Anxiety – Shame – Guilt = sin, alienation from God, ourselves
and each other. Nothing WE can do will fix what is wrong. — All of which leads to JUDGMENT.
It is very hard for people to hear the bad news of judgment, even if it is true. It is human nature to believe the worst about others and to deny our own brokeness and sin. One of the consequences of sin is that rather than being in God’s image, many of us have made God in OUR own image.
Our image of God is as if he was an old man at the top of a very long ladder waiting for us to get near the top, make a mistake/sin/break the rules so that he can hit our fingers with a hammer so that we lose our grip on the rung and drop like a rock into hell.
When I was in my early years of college there was a Dean at my university that would go over the senior’s records with an eye for graduation requirements that had been left undone. He never let on about the deficit until they were standing in the graduation line, in cap and gown. Then he came along, pulling people from the line, telling them that they would not graduate that day. He enjoyed it.
We can only hear judgment from someone who loves us! Only then can it become insight. Because of the love, our defensiveness is overcome, and we hear the truth. When we are loved we have the courage to peep through our fingers and admit, “Yes that is true.”
This is “being brought up short”– the moment when we have the insight that things are not as they should be or could be. Then we are left with a choice, what are we going to do? Which leads us to the good news of judgment, namely, grace and forgiveness!
- JUDGMENT, GRACE AND FORGIVENESS:
The good news is that there is grace available to us for new life. We do not have that new life because we do not ask for it. The question then is, “do we trust Jesus or not?” In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus grieves over Jerusalem, “How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gather her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!”
Robert Farrar Capon says this about judgment.
“If he (Jesus) has already done it all for me already, why shouldn’t I live as if I trusted him?” If he has already reconciled both my wayward self and my equally difficult brother in law, or children or wife/husband – why shouldn’t I at least try to act as if I trust him to have done just that and to let his reconciliation govern my actions in those relationships.”
When we die we lose whatever grip we had on our unreconciled versions of our lives – And when we rise on the last day, the only grip in which our lives will be held will be the reconciling grip of Jesus’ resurrection – He will hold our lives mended, cleaned and pressed in his hand, and he will show home to his Father. Sin is not something the human race has any choice about. None of us will ever avoid that trust in ourselves and that distrust of anyone else that lies at the root of the world’s problems.”
“It’s about progress rather than perfection.”Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Lent is about judgment/insight/being open to grace. The new life begins and continues – begins and continues over and over.
Frederick Buechner says this about judgment. “We are all of us judged every day. We are judged by the face that looks back at us the bathroom mirror. We are judged by the faces of the people we love and by the faces and lives of our children and by our dreams. Each day finds us at the junction of many roads, and we are judged as much by the roads we have not taken as by the roads we have. The New Testament proclaims that at some unforeseeable time in the future God will ring down the final curtain on history, and there will come a Day on which all our days and all the judgments upon each other will themselves be judged. The judge will be Christ. In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.
God is not our enemy! He is trustworthy and merciful. As the reading from Exodus? for today says, “Abram believed the Lord, and the Lord reckoned it to him as righteousness.” He wants more for us than we can ever want for ourselves. “The one who will judges us finally will be the one who loves us most fully.” That is good news indeed.