The Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2017 – Cycle A
Isaiah 49:14-15; Psalm 62; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; Matthew 6:24-34
Paul knows something about judgement. He is the object of it in Corinth. In fact in a number of his letters he must defend himself and his ministry from those who criticize him and even actively undermine his pastoral work. I expect that is the price of leadership.
Yet there are two sides to this experience. When Paul writes “do not make any judgement before the appointed time”; did he actually mean that no one in a parish can evaluate the pastoral effectiveness of their ministers? Is Paul advocating that a pastor should have free rein to decide whatever he wants without counsel? Is there a balance to be found between these two extremes? The people of the church deserve clergy who are properly prepared in theology, pastoral care, liturgy and preaching. Yet no priest, like any human being, has all the abilities and talents necessary for the office. And the issue may not be whether a parish or a priest are effective and successful. And we must ask, effective and successful by whose standards? Rather, do priest and people carry out their complimentary roles faithfully and competently in ministry, volunteering, outreach, worship, and teaching so that it corresponds to the will of God? When Paul calls church leaders “servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God” it must be understood in the context of parish. The priest in being servant of Christ is a servant among servants. The people of a parish are no less responsible for living out and proclaiming the Gospel than the priest.
Yet I’ve always struggled with the fact that there are members in every parish, as there were in Corinth, who are judgmental, critical, even hateful and undermine the work of a parish. I may be naïve but, while you have expectations, as you should, of priests; this priest has expectations of you, the people. For if even some members of a Christian parish act no differently than other gatherings of people, or are unwilling to struggle with what it practically means to follow Jesus, then do we need to exist as a parish?
Is the reason that the Church decided to include Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as part of the canon of scripture is that it recognized that every generation of Christians, every diocese, and every parish needed to hear Paul’s teaching and message? The message that every gathering of Christians is the dwelling place of God and is called to holiness. That Christ crucified needs to be at the heart of every community and every Christian. That humility, that is, living honestly with each other destroys the division, discord and judgment that regrettably marked the Corinthian Church and our communities and deprives through hypocrisy the Gospel of its power.
Judgment and criticism always falter because they cause division; they separate people from each other. Paul’s teaching “Do not make any judgement…” is in accord with the clear teaching of Jesus, “Stop judging that you may not be judged” for “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” [Matthew 7:1-2] Judgement is a double edged sword.
The bottom line for both Jesus and Paul may be that it is wrong to judge each other because we know so little about each other; about each others motives and histories that drive our words and actions. Even the most antagonist and mean-spirited parishioner may be driven by a story of hurt and personal woundedness that blindly directs their actions and words. A person who has been hurt by life usually lashes out in pain and regretfully in turn hurts others. Yet are we not all damaged, broken, incomplete in some manner?
Rather than criticism and judgment, should not the response of the members of a Christian community be one of understanding and healing? Judgment then is left to God alone who Paul says will bring the tempering light of love and mercy to us all and in revealing the motives of hearts will melt our own judgmental hearts.
By what criteria do we judge other people?
How many people have we cut off by our judgement that God wanted to use as a means for our holiness in this parish, the dwelling place of God?
How are you a servant and a steward of the mysteries of God to other members of this parish?