Love and Judgment

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The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him.

John 5: 22-3

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.

1 John 3: 1-3

Although I might prefer to avoid the topic, it is impossible to read today’s gospel and not have to deal with the question of judgment. In today’s gospel, Jesus makes clear that it is not God who judges us, but rather our lives themselves do so. We are judged based on our recognition and commitment to the “great love the Father has lavished on us” in Jesus himself. To reject Jesus is to reject God, and so, to live in judgment.

Many years ago a formation director of mine, with whom I had a very difficult relationship, said to me something that I can never forget. He said that I had many of the right ideas, but that my actions often did not correspond to them. Of course, especially as a very young person at the time, I was more than mildly angry and resentful at his comment. Yet, as life has progressed, I have often returned to his words as the source of judgment that they are. One of the great dangers in living in a religious milieu is that we are surrounded by words and ideas about the nature of Jesus’ life and its summons to discipleship. Yet, as I look around I see so many who live the life of Jesus so much more fully than I without any of the words that I have to describe it. There are those whose life seems to be an offering of God’s love to others at every turn because they know in their own lives, without speaking of it, “the great love the Father has lavished on us.”

The Fundamental Principles of the Xaverian Brothers remind us of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 10:8: “The gift you have received give as a gift.” That gift is above all God’s love for us in Jesus. As we deepen into the Lenten and soon to be Passiontide Seasons, our attention is focused on the cross, a sign of love and of judgment. We who have been given the gift of being brought to the Cross are challenged anew to recognize and realize the love God is lavishing on us in Jesus and to admit the judgment of how fully we, in turn, are “laying down our life” for our world.

To want to admire instead of to follow Christ is not necessarily an invention by bad people. No, it is more an invention by those who spinelessly keep themselves detached, who keep themselves at a safe distance. Admirers are related to the admired only through the excitement of the imagination. To them he is like an actor on the stage except that, this being real life, the effect he produces is somewhat stronger. But for their part, admirers make the same demands that are made in the theater: to sit safe and calm. Admirers are only all too willing to serve Christ as long as proper caution is exercised, lest one personally come in contact with danger. As such they refuse to accept that Christ’s life is a demand. In actual fact, they are offended at him. His radical, bizarre character so offends them that when they honestly see Christ for who he is, they are no longer able to experience the tranquility they so much seek after. They know full well that to associate with him too closely amounts to being up for examination. Even though he “says nothing” against them personally, they know that his life tacitly judges theirs.

And Christ’s life indeed makes it manifest, terrifyingly manifest, what dreadful untruth it is to admire the truth instead of following it. When there is no danger, when there is a dead calm, when everything is favorable to our Christianity, it is all too easy to confuse an admirer with a follower. And this can happen very quietly. The admirer can be in the delusion that the position he takes is the true one, when all he is doing is playing it safe. Give heed, therefore, to the call of discipleship!

Soren Kierkegaard, Practice in Christianity

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