When the judge becomes the judged
Today's reading in Romans continues Paul's look at how we humans take God's truth and pervert it for our own use.
And I have to say that once again, God's word is powerful and convicting. In reading this passage, I have to look back at my understanding of yesterday's Scripture: and I have to confess that I was doing yesterday -- and I have done in the past -- what the Spirit, through Paul, condemns today. In heaping ridicule upon those who reject God's Truth and word, I was judging them, and placing myself -- like the Pharisee that I am -- above them.
God forgive me for doing so: for as Paul writes today, "in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things." I, too, am guilty. In my haste to extol God's glory and condemn others' wickedness, I forgot that Christ did not condemn sinners: instead, he pulled up a chair at their table and had dinner. He touched the untouchable. He loved the prostitutes and adulterers. He wanted to get to know the worse people in town. Even you and me.
Paul is not, today, contradicting what he wrote and what we studied yesterday. Instead, he is reminding us that while there are people who take God's truth and change into into a lie, we as believers do the same thing when we take the liberty that Christ has given us and sin over and over again.
It is not that Christ's grace is insufficient for our forgiveness when we sin in the same way for the five-thousandth time. Instead, Paul is reminding us that we are no better than those who have exchanged the glory of God for the foolishness of men: the difference is that the almighty grace and love of Jesus Christ covers us, and God forgives us of our sin.
As the Spirit says through Paul, we must "realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead [us] to repentance." And indeed, when we continue to sin, it is incumbant upon us to confess our sins, return to the Lord, and serve him with our whole heart. God is truly a judge of equity: "There will be anguish and distress for everyone who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honour and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality."
• Matthew 18:1-9
The Gospel lesson today continues the theme of humility in our relationship with God. Once again the disciples are arguing over who is going to be the top dog, the big man on campus, the guy that everyone looks up to in the kingdom of heaven.
You can almost imagine Jesus sighing, clasping the disciples on their shoulder, and shaking his head sadly. He loves them so much, but truly it must have taken the patience of almighty God to deal with them -- and us. For even after sitting at Christ's feet for years, these men are still questioning Jesus about earthly kingdoms and rewards. They're not worried about who will seek righteousness the most, or who will show the most mercy: they're worried about who will get to be the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense -- who will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven; i.e., Jesus' post-Roman Jewish state.
Jesus, as he always seems to do with us when we ask questions that we should know the answer to, doesn't yell or scream or get frustrated. Instead, he calmly calls a child to himself, and tells the disciples that whoever is as humble as a small child will be the greatest in Heaven's Kingdom.
Jesus said, "Unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."
What a powerful statement! Jesus once again turns the world on its head and tells us that following God is not about being the best, the strongest, the smartest, the richest, or the best-looking. Following Christ is about being the most Christ-like! Jesus compares himself to the child and says that welcoming a humble person is the same as welcoming Christ.
The obvious corollary is that the treatment and love (or lack thereof) that we show to children, widows, orphans, homeless people -- the outcasts of society (the illegal immigrants, homosexuals, and others in our world today?) -- is the treatment and love that we show to Christ.
Again, I am strongly convicted by this Scripture, for in my treatment of others, I do not treat them as I would treat Christ. Part of me argues, "But if I knew I were talking to Jesus, I would bow down; I would run to put on my best suit, and I would throw a lavish banquet for him, while inviting all my friends and family to meet him."
But isn't that the story of what God does for us? In the parable of the prodigal son, Christ tells us that we are the homeless person, the widow, the orphan, the illegal immigrant, the gay person: we are the person who is cast out and unwelcome, but that God doesn't care. He runs to meet us, puts the most expensive clothes on us, puts a ring on our finger, throws a party, and invites all his friends.
Surely, then, we should show that love to others: in our words, actions, and commitments.
Heavenly Father, we confess that we do not love our neighbor as ourselves, and that we do not love you with our whole heart. We admit that we look down on other people, and that we think we can judge others, as the Pharisees did. We glorify you for your humility, in coming to earth to take on flesh and live among dirty, smelly, sinful people. We praise you for your power to raise up the lowly and give hope to those who despair. We thank you, Lord, for continuing to bless your people despite our demonstrated willingness to disobey. We thank you that you continue to bless your Church, even when we are disobedient and unfaithful. Save us, O God, from our pride, and crucify our wants and desires with Jesus so that we may be raised to love you with our lips, our hearts, and our lives; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.