28 Oct 2007
“‘“O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity …”’” (Luke 18:11) (+)
Fr. Randy Calvo
This past Wednesday morning I woke up to a story on National Public Radio about Neo-Nazis in Germany. One woman who was interviewed spoke about being a child and hearing her father and grandfather praise Hitler for gaining Germany the glory that was her due, and that both of these men denied the possibility of the Holocaust. They insisted that all that Germany had done was noble, and that the charges of industrialized human slaughter were just propaganda to smear the good Nazi name. As a teenager she joined the Neo-Nazi movement in what was then West Germany. She married a fellow Neo-Nazi. Her closest companions were drawn from the same movement. She and her husband had several children. The last one, however, was born handicapped.
All of a sudden the ones she felt closest to because of their shared Nazi ideology turned on her because she would not disown her handicapped child. The Nazi ideology considers the handicapped to be inferior and that they drag down the pure race. They should be eliminated no differently than the Jews, the Poles, the Communists, the homosexuals, and anyone else who was different or imperfect. She had no qualms about this ideology when it was applied to someone else. Her conscience emerged only when that same ideology turned against her and her own. She didn’t care about how other handicapped people, Jews, or homosexuals were condemned and threatened, that is until her own child was condemned and threatened. Then her eyes opened and she saw the plight of the others.
On Monday evening I attended a talk sponsored by the Massachusetts Bible Society at Smith College. Barbara Brown-Taylor is an Ordained Episcopal minister and a college professor in Georgia. She was born and raised in the deep-south. She made mention of the fact that many homes in Georgia display a copy of the Ten Commandments on their front lawns, and that where she lives hope in the rapture and the second-coming is alive and well. A theology of judgment is embraced and hoped for in the nearest future. It’s follow the rules of God or else! Rev. Taylor’s address this past Monday was on the biblical idea of the Sabbath rest. The Bible is quite clear that no work is to be done on the Sabbath, and furthermore that every seven years the entire land is to be granted a Sabbath rest, which means in the explicit words of the biblical command: “During the seventh year the land shall have a complete rest, a Sabbath for the Lord, when you may neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard.” (Lev. 25:4) As she said Monday, this statement doesn’t ask our consent, this is a command of the Lord.
She then referenced another biblical command. It is presented in exactly the same way, in exactly the same book of the Bible, but whereas we all choose to ignore the command of the complete year of Sabbath rest, a vast majority of judgment-Christians, the follow-the-commandments-or-else-Christians, love to quote this command: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” (Lev. 18:22) I use this example because it is an extremely contentious topic. Practicing Christians have strong feelings about the morality of homosexuality. But I have to wonder where that fire comes from. If it was from the Bible, then we should be just as adamant about the complete year of Sabbath rest, and obviously we’re not. So where does the fire come from if it’s not from the Bible? I think we need to think about that to ourselves. And as we’re thinking about it, I’d like to tie in the woman in Germany with the handicapped child. She had no problems when it was someone else’s child she was denouncing. Her second thoughts emerged when it was her own.
Barak Obama was speaking in a predominantly black Christian congregation. It was on the news and I caught a bit of it. The congregation was very traditional until … the pastor’s son revealed that he was gay. Then the pastor had a change of heart, and carried the church with him. Again, I talk about this particular issue to make a point. We often have strong feelings about the subject and we need to ask ourselves about where our judgments come from. We need to ask if our judgments are strong enough to withstand the test of being personally involved. Would we be able to judge and treat someone we love the same way we judge and treat strangers? I’m asking if we use the moral judgment of others as a cover for something else.
The unsettling message of this morning’s parable is for us as people of faith to be cautious in how we judge others. Jesus is telling us not to rush to judgment no matter how apparently clear the faults of others may seem. Maybe we’re being warned that our only sin may be the grievous one of judging others unfairly, and I say grievous because Jesus tells us that the self-centeredness that leads to this kind of judgment can separate us from God. A person who recognizes their own faults, like the publican, can turn to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. The person who is self-righteous and who instead rushes to judge others can be blind to their own faults and never bother to ask for forgiveness, and so they stay separated from God. The example of the Neo-Nazi who changed only when her child was born handicapped, the example of the families who display front yard decorations of the Ten Commandments but who pick and choose which ones they will enforce, and the example of the pastor who saw things differently only once his son came out of the closet, these are all today’s examples of Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the publican. The rush to judge others never belongs to another time and another people. It’s a message for all of us. May we be more patient and thoughtful in our remarks about others, may our judgments all be able to pass the test of “Could I do the same to my loved one.” It’s a whole lot easier to profess morality by condemning the faults of others rather than becoming more like Jesus every single day, so let us ask Christ to help us take the difficult path of such a morality and leave judgment to God. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)