‘But you, God of mercy and compassion, slow to anger, O Lord, abounding in love and truth, turn and take pity on me.” Today’s responsorial psalm, with its appeal to a God of mercy and compassion, leads on from the description of God’s judgment in the Book of Wisdom. It is perhaps only natural that we who know our own frailty only too well should banish from our consciousness the thought of judgment. If we doubt this, then we should gauge our own reaction to criticism of any kind. We are indeed fortunate if foolish pride does not obscure the judgment that we truly deserve.
The Book of Wisdom speaks to our instinctive fear of judgment. The God who judges us is not our enemy. He is the one who cares for all that he has created. His overwhelming judgment is reserved for those who stubbornly ignore his presence, whose insolent persistence in wrongdoing is a denial of his goodness. For others, who long for his presence despite their failings, he is mild in judgment and governs with great leniency.
The author of the Book of Wisdom takes this understanding of God’s judgment as a model for our dealings with each other. “By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people, how the virtuous man must be kindly to his fellow men, and you have given your sons the good hope that after sin you will grant repentance.”
We cannot avoid making judgments in daily life, but such judgment should always be tempered by the mercy we ourselves hope to receive. In a world of instant communication, it is only too easy to be drawn into a frenzy of judgment that knows nothing of mercy and compassion and that leaves no possibility for repentance. In the parables of the Kingdom Jesus described ourselves, as individuals, and as a Church, as a work in progress. As such, we are a mixture of good and bad. Despite our many failings, there is hidden within us all a God-given capacity for good. In the attitudes that govern our relationships to family, parish and Church, we should be guided by the understanding expressed in familiar parables. Jesus described the Church as a field initially sown with good seed, but subsequently contaminated by the darnel that had been sown by an enemy.
We cannot deny, either in ourselves or in the Church, that the perfect and the imperfect flourish side by side. What was so distinctive in the teaching of Jesus was the manner in which he understood this situation. There was to be no destructive rush to judgment. The labourers were not to weed out the darnel, lest in their zeal they destroyed the whole field. “Let them both grow till the harvest, and at harvest I will say to the reapers: first collect the darnel to be burnt, then gather the wheat into my barn.”
When we avoid a rush to destructive judgment and accusation we allow the possibility that the good within us might ultimately flourish and come to fruition. Vindictive judgment, as history demonstrates, frequently destroys the good for which we strive.
Let us respect each other as those who, despite our many failings, bear within ourselves the mustard seed, the hidden leaven of God’s presence.