But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
Romans 14:10 NASB
“In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Luke 15:10 NASB
. . .
Just one. One matters to God. If God is out looking for the lost, if Jesus spent his time with tax collectors and ‘sinners’, then what possible grounds can any of us have for passing judgment on one another? That person I regard contemptuously matters to God as much as my friends do, as much as I do.
It is not new–surely our equality before God is a theological commonplace–but it is sobering. Awhile back, I made a rule for myself. It’s not really a rule of life; I tried all sorts of things and could never quite manage the timetable. Much as I would love to pray the office daily, in solidarity with my ‘home’ abbey in Kent, I can’t. But while I was there I realized that a very simple rule would do: not to speak a harsh word to, or about, anyone, even in my heart. I suppose something like Romans 14: 10 might have been rattling around in the back of my mind as I thought about this rule.
I never thought it would be easy. But it has proved a lot more tricky than I thought. Because judging and regarding with contempt (both count as ‘harsh’!) aren’t always conscious. I just don’t ‘warm’ to this person or that person; I am inattentive. Sometimes I suppose that’s fair enough–it’s human to like some people more than others. Sometimes, though, that coldness hides a deeper dislike. Maybe it’s envy, maybe it’s scorn, based on some less-than-conscious judgment about the character of the person, or arising from feelings of insecurity on my part.
So of course the whole ‘no harsh words’ has not been a perfect success. I have, not surprisingly, failed. Still, insofar as I have become more aware of my own inclination to judge or to dismiss others, the enterprise has been, and continues to be, worthwhile. And today’s gospel reminded me why the rule is so important. It isn’t because I want everyone to think I am nice. It’s because there is joy in heaven over one who repents. There is no contempt for the sinner in heaven, only joy at her repentance.
I still have a long, long way to go.