Who Am I To Judge?

A Homily for the Third Wednesday in Advent

Text: St. John 8:12-20

Grace to you and peace from God our Heavenly Father and Christ Jesus our Lord, the light of the world. Amen.

Early in his tenure as the Bishop of Rome, Pope Francis was asked about gay priests serving in the Catholic Church, and his answer set the tone for his first few years as pontiff. He asked,

Who am I to judge?

The response, marking slight but highly visible departure from the answers of his predecessors, was widely reported and oft-quoted. Nearly six years later, this single off-the-cuff remark continues to shape they way many, Catholics and non-Catholics alike, understand the papacy of Jorge Bergoglio.

In-character as a “well-intentioned, poorly informed high-status idiot,” Stephen Colbert responded with his trademark satirical shock:

You are the pope to judge….I’m a pundit. If I don’t judge, I don’t get paid.

Many of us unwittingly side with Colbert: We assume that people with authority issue forth judgment, pontificating on any number of topics and people, proclaiming them to be good or bad. And we are so often tempted to give in to our own judgments, relying on our own understanding, to make pundits of ourselves issuing forth pronouncements with no real authority – so much so that we often judge ourselves harshly and fear such harsh judgement from others.

I hate to break it to you, but the Church has gotten quite the reputation for being judgmental. We have been quick to speak, claiming divine authority, and to condemn not only actions but people. This is why the world took notice when Francis put forward his question.

Just before tonight’s Gospel reading, the Pharisees bring forward a woman caught in adultery; questioning Jesus’ adherence to the Torah, they ask if she should be stoned as according to the Law of Moses. (Given that adultery requires two participants, we are left to wonder where her partner is.) Standing before the mob, our Lord issued an invitation: “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” When the crowd dispersed, our Lord sent the woman on her way with a simple command: “From now on do not sin again.”

The Pharisees, we may imagine, are shocked. Who do you think you are? “You are testifying on your own behalf,” they say. “Your testimony is not valid.” Where do you get the authority to let this adulterer go? Don’t you know that it takes two witnesses for a testimony to be valid? You alone don’t have the right to let this woman live.

To which Jesus responds, “You judge by human standards; I judge no one. Yet even if I do judge, my judgment is valid; for it is not I alone who judge, but I and the Father who sent me.”

Dear ones, we are judged not by mortals or authority figures or ourselves, with all of our fallible ways, but by our Heavenly Father, the Righteous One, the God of all mercy. Our Father in Heaven has sent to us an advocate, Jesus the Christ, who does not condemn but calls us to repentance. We are not judged unto death, then, but called from sin into newness of life.

Let us put down our stones and follow Christ, going forth and sinning no more.


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