Now the Lord said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
So Abram went, as the Lord had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
Jesus said to his disciples,
"Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour's eye."
Abram's call by God to move to another country marks the beginning of Israel's salvation history, the monumental moment when this rugged nomad was called to migrate to the land of promise and eventually become a sign of blessing for everyone on earth. But centuries later, the tragic story of the ten northern tribes comes to a fiery end when their capital city, Samaria, is stormed and captured by the Assyrians. The people left alive after the ordeal of a three year siege are marched into exile and historical oblivion. By this stern judgment of God, most of Abram's descendants were suppressed by a gentile nation for whom they were supposed to be a blessing. Yet, in the gospel we are told not to judge others. Is God, we wonder, above his own law of compassion and forgiveness?
The mystery of divine providence cannot be explained in any clear and simple way, why some are chosen and others seem unchosen. At times the question is squarely faced in the Bible--for instance in today's reading from 2 Kings, without the answer being utterly persuasive. Yes, the northern tribes did not keep God's commandments; but the single remaining tribe of Judah did not keep the commandments all that faithfully, either. Jerusalem, their capital, was also razed to the ground (2 Kings 25) but they survived the Babylonian exile and became a remnant group who rebuilt the Holy City and prepared for the coming of the Messiah.
Another attempt to explain divine election and non-election is made in the Book of Deuteronomy: It was not because you are the largest of all nations that the Lord set his heart on you and chose you, for you are the smallest of all nations. It was because the Lord loved you, that he brought you out with his strong hand from the place of slavery (Deut 7:7-8). From this text we see that a non-negotiable element for survival is a sense of humble gratitude. The proud person, as today's reading says, is "stiff-necked." Humility receives each gift and blessing continuously as a gift, never as an absolute possession. Whatever is received as a gift is easily shared with other needy persons. Humility quickly leads to generosity, generosity to trust in God, and trust in God to a profound sense of prayer and adoration.
Abram left Haran in upper Syria, going into an unknown land and leaving behind his relatives and his home and everything he knew, for the sake of a promise and a blessing. Even the new land was also to remain promised, never completely possessed. God said to Israel, "The land is mine; you are but aliens who have become my tenants" (Lev 25:23). Land was to be shared, so that no one would be homeless among God's people. Never to possess but always to receive as a gift meant that Israel was to be "the smallest of all nations."
For "the smallest" to be anything else but humble would be ridiculous. This humble people can hardly stand high enough to see what is happening, and so cannot be judgmental towards others. They already have a plank in their eyes when they dare to judge their neighbours, who turn out to be more righteous with only a speck in their eyes. Humble persons will not lose the promised land, the divine blessing, for God always remembers his promise in their regard. Humility means strength in God and kindliness towards one's neighbour, and its tests are: a good heart to think well of one's neighbour, generosity in sharing with them, always trusting God and going forward willingly, at God's call.
We don't often think of Jesus as showing a sense of humour. But something of his humour comes across in today's gospel. He paints an odd picture--amusing because it is ridiculous and incongruous--of someone with a plank in his or her eye struggling to take a splinter out of someone else's eye. Yet, behind the humour there is a serious point. Jesus is alerting us to the human tendency to be very aware of the failings of others while at the same time being blind to our own failings. In a sense, wagging the finger at the perceived failings of others is always a strong temptation for all of us. I was struck the other evening by an exchange on RTE between an Irish bishop and a certain well known correspondent of a well known newspaper. What remained with me after the exchange was not anything either of them said but the sight of the correspondent continually wagging his finger at the bishop in the course of the exchange. Bishops, of course, have done their own share of finger wagging in the past, as, indeed, we all have. In today's gospel, Jesus encourages us to be constantly looking at ourselves when we come to turn the spotlight on others. We need to be in touch with our own humanity before we can comment on the humanity on others, and, it is probably true to say that the more we know ourselves the less inclined we will be to judge or accuse others.