Tuesday, September 12, 2017

PENTECOST XV 2017 (Proper 19)

    Blake -- God Judges Adam
    In one way or another, the readings for this Sunday are about judgment, tolerance and forgiveness. In the contemporary liberal democratic world,  being 'judgmental' is among the worst of sins, and that explains why most mainline Christian denominations have been anxious to cast off the Church’s historical reputation as ‘judgmental’, and embrace instead a non-judgmental inclusiveness that reflects what they see to be God's unconditional love in Christ -- God loves you whoever, and whatever, you are.

    Conservative Christians sometimes condemn this as a willingness to abandon a Gospel that preaches sin and salvation, in the interests of appeasing the secular world. Yet, the passage from Paul’s Letter to the Romans that serves as this week's epistle, does provide biblical support for non-judgmentalism. The disagreement Paul writes about – whether or not to eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols -- is not one that concerns us today. But the advice he bases upon it has much wider application. Though we ought to be firm in our own convictions, we ought not to pass judgment on, still less despise, those who disagree with us. The Gospel passage puts the same thought in the wider context of those who harm us. Forgiveness is ‘seventy times seven’ more important than retribution, however natural the desire for this may be. Here we have a truth that everyone has reason to welcome, if we are not to fall into the rank hypocrisy of the indebted slave.

    To this extent then, biblical teaching coincides with contemporary liberal opinion. At the same time, the wholesale rejection of ‘judgmentalism’ conflicts with a key element in these readings -- that human beings are indeed under judgment, both for what they believe and for what they do. 

    Old Slave -- Anatol Petrytsky
    No one really thinks otherwise. Racist beliefs, for instance, are almost always rooted in falsehoods, and their fruits, especially when sincerely held, are inevitably evil. Paul's point, though, is that Christians – even in this kind of case -- ought to be very careful that they are not trying to preempt God’s judgment. ‘Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?” he cautions his readers. So he takes his stand against human judgmentalism, and yet immediately places it in a larger theological context : “For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God”. 

    The Gospel story of the hypocritical slave, let it be noted, ends with his being “tortured” as an act of justice. In the past Christians have been very ready to usurp God’s justice and do the torturing themselves. Nowadays, perhaps, they are more likely to make the opposite mistake -- presuming upon God’s mercy. The difficult thing is both to witness to the solemn truth that “each of us will be accountable to God”, and to do so in a spirit of love rather than loathing.

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