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Mercy and judgement – which one is greater?

Friday 24 June 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features

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Mercy and judgement – which one is greater?
Bishop Paul Donoghue, celebrant of First Communion held on Sunday at the St. Joseph’s Cathedral, Avarua. Photo: Supplied/22062310

Reflect today on being merciful and on being judgmental in your life – which one is greater? What is your primary tendency? Bishop Paul Donoghue of the Catholic Church writes.

“Mercy and Truth have met, justice and peace have embraced.” (Psalm 85:10)

When I preached last Sunday, I found myself explaining how previously we valued the expression, “Be a gentleman”. During my childhood it was something all fathers drilled into their sons. The principal of the college I attended was constantly using the expression, as he explained what it meant to be a gentleman in regards to respecting women, manners at the table or while playing sport, particularly when one lost. Yet today we rarely hear any mention of the expression “Be a gentleman”. Is it no longer important or valued?

Another example of a modern-day change would be that previously if the doctor said we needed a vaccine, we simply rolled up our sleeve and got the jab. Never did we or our parents question the doctor. Yet today in the roll out of vaccines for Covid-19, we were bombarded with material proclaiming that getting the vaccine violated our basic rights. Or we were told that the pharmaceutical companies saw it as a way to make money by spreading the disease. Even though it was placing many people’s lives in danger if they were not vaccinated, people were prepared to undermine science and medical advice. It seems it is now okay to falsify the truth.

In this article, I would like to express my opinion on another change that has occurred in society – that it is alright to be harsh and critical of others in public, no matter the consequences. In other words, we can speak on “talkback radio” or write letters to the editor to the newspaper, often using a pseudonym, so we can’t be identified or make comments on Facebook or other social media pages which can destroy someone’s good name.

To address this issue, I suggest we ask ourselves a fundamental question – “Am I judgemental in how I view others?”

If the answer is “Yes,” then being judgmental can be a difficult thing to shake. Once someone falls into the habit of regularly thinking and speaking in a harsh and critical way, it can be very difficult for them to change. In fact, once someone starts down the road of being critical and judgmental, chances are that they will continue down that road becoming more critical and more judgmental.

This is one of the reasons Jesus addresses this tendency in such a strong way.

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”  Matthew 7: 1 -2 

After the passage above Jesus states, “You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first…” These words and Jesus’ strong condemnation of being judgmental is not so much because Jesus is angry or harsh toward the judgmental person. Rather, He wants to redirect them from the road they are heading down and help to free them of this heavy burden. 

Jesus makes clear the impossibility of passing judgment on others without incurring it ourselves. We can only judge by using the same measure we have for ourselves. We can only see another with the same eye or point of view we decide is the standard for judgment. The tiny splinter in my eye is so close to me, it appears to be a plank in another’s eye. Subjectivity is bound to overwhelm all our judgments, but we will never know it unless we factor in our own prejudices. It is better not to judge at all. Or to face the verdict, “It takes one to know one.”

So an important question to ponder is this: “Is Jesus talking to me? Do I struggle with being judgmental?” Again if you are answering “Yes,” fear not and do not get discouraged. Seeing this tendency and admitting it is very important and is the first step toward the virtue which is opposite of being judgmental. The virtue is mercy. And mercy is one of the most important virtues we can have today.

It seems that the times we live in demand mercy more than ever. Perhaps one of the reasons for that is the extreme tendency in our world culture, to be harsh and critical of others. All you need to do is read a newspaper, browse social media, or watch the nightly news programmes to see that our world culture is one that is continually growing in the tendency to analyse and criticise. This is a real problem.

The good thing about mercy is that God uses either our judgment or our mercy (depending upon which is more manifest) as the measuring rod of how He treats us. He will act with great mercy and forgiveness toward us when we show that virtue towards others. But He will also show His justice and his judgement when this is the path we take with others. It’s up to us!

Reflect, today, on being merciful and on being judgmental in your life. Which one is greater? What is your primary tendency? Remind yourself that being merciful is always far more rewarding and satisfying than being judgmental. It produces joy, peace and freedom. Put mercy in your mind and commit yourself to seeing the blessed rewards of this precious gift.

The prayer below is attributed to a Presbyterian Church member addressing the MercifulLord, and asking the Lord to fill our hearts with mercy. In particular I am hoping that, in the next six weeks, we will carry out our political campaigns and elections in a respectful manner as befits gentlemen and gentlewomen.

“O Holy God, we know we have fallen short.
We turn our backs when we could embrace.
We remain silent when we could speak.
We speak when we could listen.
We judge when we could seek understanding.
We cling when we could give.
Forgive us, O God, for focusing solely on ourselves and help us to continue to grow into the people you created us to be, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

  • Sourced Catholic reflections