Friday, October 25, 2013

Who am I to judge?

by José Antonio Pagola (English translation by Rebel Girl)
Buenas Noticias: Blog de Jose Antonio Pagola
October 27, 2013

Luke 18:9-14

The parable of the Pharisee and the publican usually arouses in quite a few Christians a lot of rejection towards the Pharisee who stands before God arrogant and sure of himself, and spontaneous sympathy for the publican who humbly acknowledges his sin. Paradoxically, the story can give rise to this sentiment in us: "I give you thanks, my God, that I am not like this Pharisee."

To hear the message of the parable correctly, we must keep in mind that Jesus isn't telling it just to criticize the Pharisees, but to shake the consciences of "those who, believing themselves to be righteousness, felt sure of themselves and despised everyone else." Among those people, we would certainly find quite a few Catholics of our time.

The Pharisee's prayer reveals his inner attitude: "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest." What kind of a prayer is this, thinking one is better than everyone else? Even a Pharisee, a faithful follower of the Law, can have a perverted attitude. This man feel righteous before God and, precisely because of that, he becomes a judge who despises and condemns those who aren't like him.

The publican, however, only manages to say, "O God, be merciful to me a sinner." This man humbly acknowledges his sin. He can't boast about his life. He commends himself to the compassion of God. He doesn't compare himself to anyone. He doesn't judge others. He is truthful before himself and God.

The parable is a biting critique that unmasks a deceptive religious attitude that allows us to live before God sure of our innocence, while from our supposed moral superiority we condemn  anyone who doesn't think or act like us.

Historical circumstances and triumphalist currents far from the gospel have made us Catholics especially prone to this temptation. Therefore, we each have to read the parable with a self-critical attitude. Why do we think we're better than agnostics? Why do we feel we're closer to God than non-practitioners? What's at the bottom of certain prayers for the conversion of sinners? What is making reparations for the sins of others without being converted to God ourselves?

Recently Pope Francis made this statement to answer a question from a reporter: "Who am I to judge a gay person?" His words surprised almost everybody. It seems that no one expected such a simple gospel answer from a Catholic pope. However, that is the attitude of someone who is truthful before God.