Judge behavior but not the soul

Readings: 2 Sam. 12.7-13; Ps. 32; Gal. 2.6-21; Lk. 7.36-8.3

Many people in confession report that they are judgmental. I respond that it is important to use our God-given eyes, ears and intellect to "judge behavior but not the soul." We need to be realists. If some person is drinking or gambling too much, or working too hard or not working at all, or driving too fast or too slow; it is important to note that behavior. Somebody, however, might be driving fast because a relative is dying in the hospital, or driving slowly because he/she suffers from poor eye sight. We almost never know the circumstances as to why someone does whatever he/she may do. If we could communicate observable behavior to someone who may be in a position to assist that person, then we have done our job. If our comments are not likely to be constructive and effective, it is good to say nothing. On the one hand, while we may judge someoneís objective behavior; on the other hand, we never judge the soul; that is Godís responsibility.

In the gospel today, Jesus entered a Phariseeís home, and a woman entered too. The Pharisee recognized her as a public sinner. Approaching from behind Jesus, she wept. Kneeling down, she washed Jesusí feet with her tears. With her hair she dried Jesusí feet. She kissed Jesusí feet, and used expensive alabaster ointment to anoint his feet. Jesus could see the Phariseeís discomfort. Jesus used a parable to make this point: "someone who is forgiven much, loves much." In the next few verses, Jesus reverses his saying and adds: "Someone who loves much, is forgiven much." Jesus sees beyond peopleís behaviors to see the hearts of people.

Donít we wish that we, like Jesus, could look beyond behavior to see each personís good heart? I know a young man who lives hundreds of miles from here. His parents and siblings are very successful professionals. This young man in his late twenties has struggled at times: academically, professionally and financially. He was dating a young woman. They moved in together, and she became pregnant with their child. This young man loves his daughter. He dotes on her, plays with her, and tries to do everything he can for her. She has become the most important person in his life. Judging by his history of behaviors, he has not done everything by the book. His parents note, however, that this young man has matured by this experience of having a child and wanting to give all the love that he can to, his child. For the young people present this morning, I am not recommending that you follow this manís behavior. I do recommend, however, that you try your best to his good heart.

Another example: an elderly Vincentian Father who has since died was revered by many confreres and laity. He seemed to possess significant wisdom in listening to and understanding people, and in weighing complex factors in making decisions. He was blessed with an unusual sensitivity to all parties involved in delicate disputes. Also he was an alcoholic. When I was working in the Vincentian college seminary, this man gave the best talks to our candidates. He spoke realistically and kindly, while being encouraging and challenging. His manner in respecting and relating with people demonstrated great humility. I suspect that he learned humility and the human reality by having to face and confront his own self and his addiction. It appeared to me that this priest was close to God. I chose this man to be my confessor. Why? Because he understood the human condition, and the forgiving grace of God.

The Pharisee in this morningís gospel judged not only the woman who was a public sinner, but also Jesus. The Pharisee says to himself about Jesus: "If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is." In having used the contrary-to-fact tense and mood, the Pharisee reveals that he had judged that Jesus was not a prophet.

Similarly, since the 6th century, spiritual writers have described Mary Magdalene as a prostitute. Contemporary Scripture scholars say that the allegation is based on a misreading of the gospel story. Chapter 7 ends with the story of the prostitute who washed Jesusí feet. Chapter 8 begins another story in which Mary Magdalene is mentioned. Scholars describe this relation as pure coincidence, and that Mary Magdalene has suffered from "guilt by association." For 1400 years, Mary Magdalene has been judged as a prostitute when no Scriptural evidence exists to support that view.

When you come to confession, please be conscious of the distinction between the importance of making good judgments about behavior, and not making moral judgments about the soul. Certainly, none of us wants to be judged morally by our neighbor; each of us prefers to be judged by Jesus who looks beyond appearances and sees the hearts of people. May we blessed more and more with Jesusí vision which looks beyond behaviors and perceives the good heart and soul of each person.

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