It’s been an interesting week for those of us who were participating in our youth mission week.
We’ve gotten stung by yellow jackets and mosquitos, gotten paint under our nails, gotten blisters wielding unfamiliar tools, and gotten aches in muscles we don’t ordinarily use.
We’ve also gotten the tremendous satisfaction of completing tasks that could be done, the realization that we couldn’t do everything we wished we could have done, and the knowledge that we could accomplish things we didn’t know we were capable of.
This is a lesson that our young people learned, but it was also a lesson many of us adults who helped out learned, or needed a refresher course on.
There was another lesson in the midst of it all. On Thursday, a somewhat frustrating day because the rain washed out our the outdoor projects, we talked about the little voices in our heads, those little doubts and fears, those words of “why am I doing this?,” the wonderings about why these people just couldn’t do this work themselves…in other words, we talked about how common it is for us to judge ourselves and to judge others.
It was an interesting conversation juxtaposed against a remarkable comment by Pope Francis, who when asked about the Catholic Church’s position on gays and lesbians, said “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”
Who am I to judge? The phrase sent shock waves through the religious world, because, as one news commentator said “Isn’t he supposed to be in the judging business? He is the pope, after all…”
But Francis, while not turning away from traditional church doctrine about homosexual acts, said he wasn’t in the judging business when it came to faithful followers of Christ whose attraction was to people of the same gender. He seemed to be saying “Their faithfulness is infinitely more important than their sexual orientation. I’m more interested in having them know how beloved they are in God’s eyes than in judging them.”
In fact, the pope was saying precisely what Jesus is saying in today’s gospel story. “Who am I to judge?” Jesus was responding to a request from a man to settle a family dispute. The man wanted to use Jesus as a club to beat over the head of the man’s brother, so he could get a share of the inheritance. He wanted Jesus to be his expert witness, the ultimate rabbi deciding a legal matter, as was the norm in those days. The people of Israel were used to having rabbis or learned teachers serve as judges for all kinds of disputes, and rabbis were used to serving that function. But Jesus knew in an instant what this was about – greed over money, pure and simple – and so he refused to get caught in the middle of it. He refused to sit in the judgment seat. He said, “Who am I to judge this matter?” He didn’t want to have anything to do with a petty argument over money. “Who am I to judge?”
It’s an important question, one we might all ask on a regular basis, because the world encourages us to judge. It says that it’s a good thing to see who works the hardest, who earns the most, who inherits the larger share, who has the most power. We call those people winners and we are encouraged to applaud those people and things that we deem good, in our judgment. It also says that we should look down on those who are not like the winners. We should think poorly of the losers in the world.
But what does Jesus say for us to do? Don’t judge, at least not by the world’s standards. Most certainly don’t judge based upon money or power or ethnicity or religion or race. Jesus says that’s worrying about the wrong things. Jesus says to put aside the world’s standards, which have no value in God’s eyes, and to take off the judge’s robe, for which we have been given no authority, and simply see those who truly need help, and give it. Don’t judge.
This week, one of the prime lessons we all learned as we did our work was “who am I to judge?” In the course of our week at work, we talked to the homeowners we were serving. Their stories were a reminder that for too many of us, we are one paycheck or one medical problem or one major car repair away from being in their shoes, needing some help. And in developing relationships with them, we learned that we no longer felt any need to be in the judging business. We hung up our judges’ robes when we picked up our hammers and paintbrushes. We stopped judging when we saw these homeowners as our neighbors rather than as “needy people.”
After all, who are we to judge? Would we want to be measured against the world’s skewed standards? Or would we prefer to simply be loved and appreciated for who we are, as beloved children of God?
Pope Francis was right. Jesus was right. Who am I to judge? Would I want to be judged in that way? No. I am not God. It’s above my pay grade, as it should be.
But who am I to help? Absolutely perfect. Who am I to offer a hand without judgment? Absolutely beloved for it.