The Creative Judge
Fourth Sunday of Lent. Fr Simon Gaine reminds us that judgement should be something not to fear but to long for.
So Jesus has come for judgement. And how does that make us feel? I think judgement is often something we are uncomfortable about, something we’re afraid of. But in the Scriptures judgement has a strong positive side, at least for those who end up on the right side of it.
The New Testament pictures Jesus as a judge, just as the Old had pictured God as judge. And among the Jews a judge was expected to give judgement in favour of those who were in the right, and against those who were in the wrong. If you had a dispute with your neighbour, you would go to a judge seeking judgement. Judgement was something you wanted, desperately wanted.
The judge was expected to be impartial, not swayed by riches and power, but concerned for the weak and vulnerable, the orphan, the poor, the widow. His judgement was their protection in a world where they were easily exposed to exploitation and injustice. When God was pictured as a judge, it was often poor vulnerable Israel who was seeking God’s judgement, in the face of the pagans who harassed and oppressed God’s people. And we Christians are to seek judgement from Jesus.
But can we be confident of the outcome? Perhaps the reason why judgement can make us so uncomfortable is that we’re unsure whether we will end up on the right side of it or not. Perhaps we have something to be nervous about. Sometimes it’s easy for us to gloss over our sins, deceive ourselves about ourselves, pretend that sin doesn’t matter. Maybe we don’t want the truth to be revealed, and that should make us nervous, because judgement will bring everything to light.
Of course, we may not be the best judges of ourselves at all. We all know how we can misjudge others so easily. Well, there’s also the fact that we can misjudge ourselves. We may let ourselves off too easily, but then again we may condemn ourselves too easily, seeing guilt where there is no guilt.
In today’s Gospel, more than one judgement is made. The disciples judge that someone is to blame for the fact that a man is born blind. Either the man himself is to blame or his parents are. Now sometimes the Bible does suggest that a sin is to blame for a particular illness. St Paul says as much about people at Corinth who received Holy Communion unworthily and then were ill. But that is only sometimes.
Our faith never tells us that there is a particular actual sin of ours behind every particular illness. And in the case of the man born blind, Jesus judges that there is no such sin that has caused this blindness. The disciples were wrong in their judging and Jesus’ judgement was precise and it is true. Jesus’ judgement, God’s judgement, gets to the heart of the matter. It doesn’t just lie on the surface, as things appear to the prejudices of those who set themselves up as judges: God has set Jesus up as judge, and his judgement goes to the very heart.
In our first reading, Samuel was sent to anoint Israel’s king. And when he sees Eliab, he judges straight away that this must be the king: he was tall enough for the job for a start. But God tells Samuel that the Lord does not judge by height or by appearances – man sees appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart, and it is young David whom the Lord judges the right one to be king.
None of us could ever judge others with the security that God does. And none of us can ever judge ourselves with the security that God does. And if we seek out God’s judgement, then we may well find how faulty our own judgements are, on ourselves, as well as on one another. So a judgement from God can liberate us, as it did the blind man, when God’s judgement shows that our judgement is wrong and there isn’t always someone to blame, or our judgement is wrong and we are not always the ones to blame.
But the most powerful and liberating thing about the judgement of God is not that it is always so true. The judgement of God penetrates yet further than that. The judgement of God is creative, because God’s Word is creative – God speaks and it comes into being, so powerful is his Word. And this creative judgement has been committed to the Word of God made flesh, Jesus Christ our Lord. So when Jesus judges, his verdict comes to pass.
His judgement does not only reveal the truth about us; his judgement creates a new truth in us, a new truth about us. When God in his mercy declares that we are loveable, his word of love makes us loveable. His merciful judgement kills the old self in us, and brings a new self to life. When Jesus declares of a man born blind that he can see, his power creates new sight in a man and takes away his blindness. When Jesus judges that a sinner is just in his sight – pleasing to God – then Jesus’ word of judgement takes effect – our old sinful self is put to death, and a new self is raised to life, and we are children of light.
Jesus’ judgement not only reveals the truth, it creates a new truth in us, and an abundance of good works, if we are willing. The only thing that can put us on the wrong side of God’s judgement is if we freely place an obstacle in the way of God’s mercy. This Lent let us allow God to remove every obstacle from our hearts, and by his merciful judgement create a new truth in us. Then at Easter Christ shall shine on us, as we celebrate a whole new life, a whole new self, that God has set in us by his word of judgement, creating in us a new heart and a new spirit.
Image: ‘Christ the Judge’, photographed by Fr Lawrence Lew OP