Today’s Scriptures: Lectionary selections from the Revised Common Lectionary Year C
Jeremiah 14:7-10, 19-22
2 Timothy 4:6-8, 16-18
A few months ago Pope Francis caused quite a stir with his response to a social issue that has been a defining cause of the church in the last few decades. When asked a question about gay and lesbian people, he replied, “Who am I to judge?” In five words he summed up much of what Jesus tried to teach us: those of us who call ourselves Christian are God’s examples and the guides in the world for the world: God is the judge. Because we do not want to wait for his judgment, we prefer a system with an authority who provides an answer. Popes and many other religious leaders willingly accept the mantle of judge we hang over them. Each of today’s passages take us to an event when God is the judge and see the various responses to his judgment.
By the fourteenth chapter of Jeremiah, the people of Israel have reached the point that they recognize the many sins they and previous generations have committed and they beseech God to forego the impending punishment. Their pitiful pleas go unanswered and they blame God (while still recognizing that he is the one true god). Their thinking followed the logic that even though they messed up, God - as God - could fix it. They missed the part of the confession that led to a right position (contrition, humility) with God. Instead they continued repeating the same sins.
Paul, in these verses near the end of 2 Timothy, knows his execution will happen soon and accepts it as a judgment of man which he contrasts with the judgment of God. Though the human powers can take his physical life, he maintains confidence that God’s ultimate judgment will find him to have been a faithful servant who did as he was commanded. He saw himself as nothing more than a mouthpiece for God and by being that voice and nothing more he kept in the right relationship with God. If God spared his physical life as he had done in the past, there was more for him to do. If God did not, then his part of the work was complete.
Jesus’s parable in Luke 18:9-14 puts the two approaches toward relationship with God in the characters of two individuals. The Pharisee held on to the same idea as the Israelites in Jeremiah: I am so much better (judgment) than everyone around (and it goes double because God made me this way). Meanwhile the tax collector, a person of some authority with his position, demonstrates the Pauline attitude, recognizing he is at the mercy of God. I cannot find any translation in which Jesus’s lesson is not absolute. The moment we take for ourselves any authority that belongs to God, we have moved into the wrong relationship with God and are the ones facing judgment.
The rebels we want to be reject the law of the Old Testament. The humans we are seek rules for the New Covenant. Pope Francis’s statement about his role as judge, or rather his role avoiding judgment reminds us that we are God’s examples and guides in the world for the world. Christ’s Covenant is based on our relationship to him. Our charge to live his teaching as examples of Christ and guide people to him demand that we build relationships with the people in the world. The better we do at building relationships, the less judgment will be needed. I think God prefers relationship to separation; I know I do. When we keep this in mind it may be just a little easier to be and example of Christ in our next encounter.
Revised Common Lectionary Daily Readings, copyright © 2005 Consultation on Common Texts. www.commontexts.org