TODAY WE HAVE THE CONTINUATION of Luke’s sermon on the plain (not the mount). The Gospels tell us not to judge or we would be judged ourselves. Does it mean that we are never to criticise other people? ‘Criticise’ comes from Greek ((krino, krisis, krinw, krisis, to make a rational judgment). So we speak of a film or drama ‘critic’ who may indeed tear a production to pieces or, on the other hand, may praise it to the skies, give it five stars and ‘two thumbs up’. The issue is not rational judgement.
In Rome, during the sixth century, the most famous confessor was St. Philip Neri. The rich and poor all sought his counsel and spiritual direction. One day a famous duchess came to him and confessed the sin of gossip. Philip Neri told her to go home and get a feather pillow and return to the steps of the Church. Sometime later he met her there and produced a small knife. He told the duchess to rip open the pillow. As she did, the swirling wind picked up the loose feathers and they flew everywhere, down the lanes and streets. St Philip and the duchess watched in silence. St Philip turned to her and said, “Now, go and collect all the feathers.” She protested saying that as the feathers were now everywhere the task was impossible.” “So too with your tongue, madam,” St Philip scolded her. You have no idea where your words go, and you can never unsay them.”
In today’s Gospel Jesus teaches us that our words reflect the state of our hearts. Psychologists tell us that there were three main reasons for gossiping: power, envy and boredom. The question is what rests in our hearts?
What is being forbidden by Jesus is not judgment as such, but negative, destructive judgment. There are times when we are expected to give constructive, helpful criticism. We cannot pass judgment unless we have some vision and understanding. How can the blind, those without understanding, presume to give leadership to others who are blind? Jesus asks us. The result is inevitable: “Both will fall into the pit.”
Our judgements should be like those of Jesus. We need to be like Jesus the Teacher: judging to save and help, not to knock down and destroy. If we are to avoid blindness we need to walk in the footsteps of people who can see. We need to acknowledge our own blindness, our own prejudice and lack of objectivity.
It is important to emphasise that the Gospel is in no way saying we should not have opinions or that we should not express them. What it is saying is:
a. Avoid having such a high awareness of the shortcomings of others that we have lost the ability to see and accept our own.
b. Bring our own grievances into open dialogue with the people concerned.
c. Accept that there is a place and need for mutual honest feedback.
The real solution is for me to change. As Fr Tony de Mello SJ used to say, “When I change, my whole world changes”. And, not only that, when I change, other people are likely to change but, even if they do not, my attitude towards them will not be the same. We have to make our own bed; we don’t wait for others to do so. To quote Fr de Mello again, “Attitude is everything.”
As Jesus said: a good tree bears good fruit. “A person’s words flow out of what fills their heart.” The words – fruits of a good tree – are full of warmth and affirmation and encouragement and compassion, with now and again, some positive, constructive confrontation and challenging comment. Our key thought must always be “What is the good I am seeking?”
That is today’s Gospel message.
Rev. Kevin Pattison