During World War II, from 1941 – 1944 Oxford University theology professor C.S. Lewis published a series of three pamphlets: “The Case of Christianity,” “Christian Behavior,” and “Beyond Behavior.” A BBC radio producer had read an earlier book that impressed him by the same C.S. Lewis and invited Lewis to give a series of talks based on the material in the pamphlets. In 1952, the talks were compiled and adapted for publication in the book we know as Mere Christianity. Herein is the quote that (I believe) relates to today’s Gospel story of the meeting between Jesus and a woman accused of adultery. In Lewis’ words:
“If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity (sexual sin) as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. All the worst pleasures are purely spiritual: the pleasure of putting other people in the wrong, of bossing and patronizing and spoiling sport, and backbiting; the pleasures of power; of hatred. That is why a cold self-righteous prig who goes regularly to church may be far nearer to hell than a prostitute. But, of course it is better to be neither!”
Jesus never says: Don’t judge. That would be a denial of our human nature and a gift from God – and what God makes is all good. What Jesus warns us against is jumping to conclusions and judging others’ motives – being judgmental. (“I know why she/he did that!”) There is a significant difference between making a judgement and being judgmental. People make judgements all the time; it’s part of a balanced personality. It’s how we decide what constitutes a good or inappropriate choice. It’s how we are able to make clear decisions and avoid potentially dangerous ones. It helps us help others who come to us with a problem or a dilemma.
On the other hand, judgmentalism is a defensive stance. It makes us feel superior and protected, safe from being hurt by the other by pointing out his/her faults.
You’ll know you are slipping into judgmental mode if:
- You assign motives and skip right to conclusions.
- You struggle to tolerate ambiguity and uncertainty.
- You’re generally pessimistic about life and you believe people are with ‘good’ or ‘bad’.
- You struggle to see the beauty in others.
- You are anxious and intolerant when you’re around people who are different from you.
- You’re suspicious and untrusting; have a strong inner critic who judges you.
Did any of that list make you cringe? Be honest: did you get any uncomfortable feelings … did any symptoms raise your hackles? When you are tired, feeling overworked or overly busy, the tendencies will be worse. We seek to protect ourselves, inflate our ego with false self-worth and disown our own faults. This points back to our own feelings of low self-worth. The more you are rejecting of yourself – the real you – the more you will tend to reject others.
So, what to do? Self-talk can work wonders. When you are feeling upset, depressed, insecure or anxious, pause and focus on your inner talk. Accept the messy parts of yourself – be realistic – accept that you are human. But be wary of thinking: That’s just the way I am – they’ll just have to accept that! Take care of your health, remove toxic people and situations from your life, do one self-loving thing each day: sit in the sun, read a book, seek out conversation with a friend, shampoo your hair, absorb the sunset … do something that makes you happy. Work on showing compassion rather than judging – look beneath the other’s behavior … where is the inner pain? Is there, perhaps, fear or sadness?
It is a curious twist in the Gospel story that Jesus is the only one who is qualified to stone the woman (He is the one without sin). And, he didn’t do it. According to the law, two witnesses were required for a death sentence. And, all the so-called witnesses had disappeared. Jesus wasn’t the one who had brought the charge against the woman. You’ve read that saying – “Every saint has a past; every sinner has a future?” So, “case dismissed” – the woman is free to go.
Fifth Sunday in Lent – April 7, 2019
Ezekiel 37:114 Romans 8:8-11 John 8:1-11
Reflection by Sister Roberta Bailey, OSB