Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things. You say, "We know that God's judgment on those who do such things is in accordance with truth." Do you imagine, whoever you are, that when you judge those who do such things and yet do them yourself, you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience? Do you not realize that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But by your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. For he will repay according to each one's deeds: to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honour and immortality, he will give eternal life; while for those who are self-seeking and who obey not the truth but wickedness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be anguish and distress for everone 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.
"But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herb of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Woe to you Pharisees! For you love to have the seat of honour in the synagogues and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces. Woe to you! For you are like unmarked graves, and people walk over them without realizing it."
One of the lawyers answered him, "Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too." And he said, "Woe also to you lawyers! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not lift a finger to ease them."
The Scriptures insist on the value of freedom and the primacy of love, but also warn us against the excess of libertinism and individualism. Jesus' teaching on this is carefully nuanced. While contrasting the way that the Pharisees paid their tithes, while neglecting justice and the love of God, Jesus concludes that the latter are more important, but immediately adds, "without omitting the other." He did not mount any campaign against the Jewish or Mosaic law. In fact, he observed it carefully and always had a sensible reason for departing from it. When he permits a freer way of acting, he is generally defending his disciples, e.g., plucking and rubbing grain on the Sabbath.
If we truly discern, we will recognise the danger of stressing external details and in judging others accordingly. The more that we multiply rules, the more we try to control other people's lives. With control over others comes a temptation to judge them. At the same time we ourselves are in danger of thinking ourselves holy because we are exact in externals. Our insistence on punctilio can be a barrier to holiness!
Jesus did not reject all rules and regulations, in this case, the duty to pay tithes. So we should not neglect these things either. Yet he stressed the centrality of justice and the love of God. It is good for us to question our motives in making and obeying rules and in judging by externals. Some would esteem the appearance of a home more than the happy life within the home. If we are in the habit of passing judgment on family, community and people at large, we have probably lost touch with the more central values of love.
Today's text from Romans seems harsh in its judgment of the sinfulness of the pagan Roman empire. But then Paul adds a balancing note, "With God there is no favouritism." He notes the different scale of values and the cultural diversity between Jews and the Greco-Romans. It is so easy, at least at first, for a person from one culture to judge severely a person from a different background. Even if there are some absolute truths, these truths will take different colorations within different cultures. Jesus adds key word of advice: Before beginning to judge others we must first lift a finger to lighten their burden. Perhaps then we would become so aware of their good qualities, that negative attitudes would be silenced.
Jesus is critical of the Pharisees for taking the seats of honour in the synagogues. Looking for special status was very deeply rooted in the culture to which Jesus belonged. Most of the generous giving that went on was with a view to gaining honour from others. If someone built a public baths, for example, their name was clearly inscribed on it for all to see. Perhaps things haven't changed all that much in that regard. Jesus had a very different attitude to honour and prestige. He certainly did not seek it for himself and he did not encourage his disciples to seek recognition for themselves, even though they were prone to doing so, as they argued among themselves as to which of them was the greatest.
James and John asked Jesus for seats on his left and right in his kingdom. Rather than getting honour from others, Jesus put the emphasis on giving honour or showing honour, the primary one to whom we give honour being God. We are to live in such a way that we bring honour to God and not to ourselves. Even our good works are to bring honour to God and not to ourselves. At the beginning of the sermon on the mount in Matthew's gospel Jesus tells his disciples, "let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven." Jesus assures us that in living in a way that brings honour to God, we will indeed receive honour from God, in the next life, if not in this life.