Who am I to judge?


19 Aug 2015
If there is one line by which Pope Francis has become famous, it is ‘I do not judge’ or perhaps rather ‘who am I to judge?’. The most famous instance where he used this line was on a plane coming back from World Youth Day in Brazil. Journalists were given open slather to ask him about a range of topics, and he was asked about homosexuality.
He was responding to questions about whether there was a “gay lobby” in the Vatican. ‘If a person is gay and seeks God and has good will, who am I to judge?’
These are the questions of today, and journalists and others may well ask the Holy Father such questions, and can expect, according to Pope Francis’ pastoral style to get an honest, frank and pastoral answer.
Francis’ way is well grounded in the Gospels, indeed, his response 2000 years later is very similar to that of Jesus.
In Mark’s Gospel for 30 August (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23) a typical debate between Jesus and the Pharisees is presented. There is what we might call a pharisaical focus on the rules. We think of Pharisees as hypocrites – people who put on a show of being devout people of integrity, but underneath are greedy, brutal and self-interested.
No doubt some of the real Pharisees were like that, just as some Christians are like that today. But the way of life of many Pharisees was very admirable. They wanted to love and serve God faithfully in all the details of their lives. So they obeyed Moses’ law very exactly in the way they ate, drank, related to one another and prayed.  Their concern for the details of the law came out of love. It was not a substitute for it.
For the Pharisees whom Jesus opposed concern for the law replaced love. They judged people by the outside and thought God did too.  So people who were not faithful in all the details of the Law displeased God and would not be invited to the banquet of heaven.
Jesus argued that goodness did not reflect whether people were clean according to the Law or not, but came from the heart.  Rage, hatred and fear also come from the heart and its desires, and we should attend to these things in ourselves. If we are aware of them we shall be slow to condemn others.
Today, of course, few people measure themselves by their obedience to all the minute regulations of governments and the church. But we do often judge people by whether they speak correctly and sensitively, whether they smoke, by their good taste. Jesus invites us to look deeper at what we value most deeply and at how rage, resentment and self-contempt move us.
We are aware of this in our Jesuit ministries to the poor and marginalised. The vulnerable young people with whom we work are very fragile. They find it hard to connect with society, and sometimes break laws to do with drugs and property. But if we must look beyond what they do and focus on their hearts as Jesus did. Like ourselves they often have large and generous desires that need nurturing.
Fr Andy Hamilton SJ is editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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