Homily for 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A: Who Am I to Judge?
Readings here: http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091017.cfm
Who am I to judge?
St. Ignatius could have asked that question to himself when he saw his friend, Francis Xavier, pursuing a worldly life. Francis Xavier was a proud man, who ridiculed St. Ignatius for following Christ. He was too interested in the comforts the world could provide to follow Christ in the same radical way. St. Ignatius could have responded by asking himself, “Who am I to judge?” but instead, he asked Francis Xavier, “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world, but lose his soul?”
Who am I to judge? We hear this phrase used often. Scripture tells us that judgement is for God alone. In the letter of St. James we read, “There is one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?”
Clearly, we are not the lawgiver and the judge. We’re not able to save and to destroy. So the natural conclusion from this passage seems to be the same question, “Who am I to judge?”
The problem with the way we often hear this question is that there are two types of judgement. One is reserved to God alone. If we engage in that type of judgment, then yes, we are sinning. If we’re talking about that kind of judgement, then yes, “Who am I to judge?”
But there is another type of judgment that is not reserved to God alone. If we engage in this type of judgment, we are not sinning. If we’re talking about this kind of judgement, then the answer to the question, “Who am I to judge?” is, “a human being.”
It’s human nature to judge in this way. I was reading a book to my goddaughter on Monday. She’s 20 months old. As I was reading I asked her, “Where is the dog?” And she pointed to person. I said, “No, that’s a person! Here’s the dog.”
That’s a person. Here’s a dog. These are judgments. The sky is blue, and the sun is round. Those are judgments. It’s human nature to judge in this way because it is human nature to know. We know by making judgments. That woman is graceful. That man is strong. Are we sinning by making these judgments? Was I teaching my goddaughter to sin by reading her that book?
No. This type of judgment is not a sin. This type of judgment is the natural way that human beings know, and it even extends to morality. If I know my family member looks at dirty magazines or x-rated websites, can I judge that he is doing something evil, something wrong?
Yes. Indeed, the Gospel today demands that we make such judgments:
"If your brother sins against you,
go and tell him his fault between you and him alone.
If he listens to you, you have won over your brother."
We cannot tell our brother his fault unless we have judged that he did something wrong. Jesus Himself says that a man who lusts after a woman is committing adultery with her in his heart, which is evil, which is wrong. When someone knows that their family member is lusting after women, it is a natural, human conclusion to judge that that person is committing an evil. My family member is lusting after women. Lusting after women is evil. My family member is committing an evil.
This type of judgment is not a sin. It is another natural, human judgement rooted in the way we think and know. Not only is it not a sin, it’s actually necessary in order to love. Love – willing the good of another. We have to make this judgment before we can tell our brother his fault, before we can try to bring him back to God. Telling our brother his fault in love is sometimes called fraternal correction; it’s also known in the spiritual works of mercy as admonishing the sinner. It’s a very delicate subject, but Jesus gives us the instructions of how to go about it.
When we see our brother doing something wrong, we are not to judge that we are better than him or that he is going to hell; that judgment is reserved to God alone. We are also not to tell his fault to our friends and family members; that is the sin of detraction, or gossip. When we see our brother doing something wrong, love – willing his good – demands that we tell him the fault privately so that he will repent, so that he will come back to God, the God who loves him, who gave His whole life for him, who only gives commandments so that we know how to find true happiness.
Fraternal correction is a hard thing to do because our culture expects us to follow a, “Who am I to judge?” attitude. It may seem kind not to bring up the fault of our brother, but it is actually the attitude of Cain, who asked the question, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” after killing him. Cain didn’t care that his brother was dead, and we have the same attitude when we ask the question, “Who am I to judge?” as an excuse for not loving our brother.
St. Ignatius did not make that excuse. He loved Francis Xavier by fraternally correcting him. Thanks to that expression of love, Francis Xavier gave his life to the Lord and experienced a greater joy than anything he had every known before. Thanks to that expression of love, the world now has St. Francis Xavier as the patron Saint of missionaries. He brought the Gospel to India and Japan and baptized thousands of people who did not know the love of our Lord until he came. The fruit of his work is still present today in the Catholic communities in India and Japan. It’s hard to imagine a world without St. Francis Xavier, and we owe it to the love that St. Ignatius showed him.
Who am I to judge? A fellow human being who knows that the greatest joy, peace, and happiness comes from loving God and following his commandments. Who am I to judge? A fellow human being who fears for the eternal death of my brother in hell. Who am I to judge? A fellow human being who loves my brother.