Continuing the theme from last week, the Gospel reading for Monday (Mt 7:1-5) lays down a useful challenge for Christians for the coming days – to be careful in judging others, lest we fail to see the plank in our own eye, while trying to remove splinters from the eyes of others! Jesus claims that there is a danger of ‘hypocrisy’ in this common practise, which we need to avoid.
The meaning of the term is concerned with inconsistency, in particular, failing to recognise that, often our criticisms of others are psychological projections of our own faults, to which we are blind. We are often guilty of the very faults we attribute so easily to others. “Let him or her who is without sin cast the first stone.”
But the term ‘hypocrite’ reminds us of the bad form of acting which betrays our Christian calling. We are called to be ‘good actors,’ immersed in the role of a Christian disciple and keeping to the script given to us by God our ‘Director’ in the scriptures.
Imagine you are one of a cast of actors called to audition for a new play based on the Gospels. You arrive and are handed a script you have never seen before, and you are invited to proclaim it aloud. But after a minute you are halted by the Director who tells you that you have the wrong role. You are reading the role of the Pharisee, the role of harsh judge, self-righteous, priggish.
Now you are given the role meant for you. You see the title on the cover, “Christian Disciple One” and, as you turn over the page you note it begins with the list of Beatitudes, basic instructions for how to play your part in this wonderful production. You must be poor in spirit, recognising your absolute need for God. You must be gentle and merciful and pure of heart. You note how it is the criticised and slandered who are blest, not those who criticise and condemn. Now you have the right role, the Christian one, not that of the ‘hypocrite’ Pharisee.
Now, we see how everything in the Sermon on the Mount follows on from the Beatitudes and are applications of those fundamental attitudes. Therefore, judging, and condemning others is in serious violation of the author’s purpose in creating the play. The message of being non-judgemental is laid down implicitly in the previous chapter to this one about planks and splinters.
It is the Lord’s Prayer (Mt 6:9-12), where the central petition is to be able to forgive others as we are forgiven. This is the role in which we must immerse ourselves, like method actors, the ones who are so committed to their role that they play it during breaks in filming, even at home!
To be a follower of Christ is to become that merciful, gentle, pure-hearted, forgiven child of God, who leaves judgment to God and dares not condemn others. Indeed, rather than condemn, the Jesus person is full of compassion for those who are following the wrong road, inviting them lovingly to come home.
Not for us, then, the role of the hypocritical judge, but instead the greatest part you could ever play, that of another Christ, who came not to judge, but to save. And, let us not be like those arrogant actors who think they can improve on the script with their own ideas. For this script, the script of the Gospel, is perfect. Keep to it word for word, always, everywhere!
Kieran Cronin OFM