We Must Not Condemn But Show Mercy

We Must Not Condemn But Show Mercy April 19, 2021

cocoparisienne: Together we can show mercy to each other/pixabay

St. Paul, because he understood how Christ treated him with mercy and grace, forgiving him for what he had done, tells us to treat others and their sins with gentleness, bearing their burden with us instead of judging them and condemning them: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Look to yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal 6:1-2 RSV). We fulfill the law of Christ, which is the law of love, when we embrace each other with love. We do so when we follow and imitate Christ. And what did Jesus did? He bore the sins of the world upon himself. How can we imitate that? By bearing the sins of others upon ourselves, helping them deal with the consequences of their actions without judgment. We should not condemn others for their mistakes. We should not mistreat them for what they have done. We must consider our own struggle with sin.  If we want mercy, we should give out such mercy; if we want  people to be patient with us, we must be patient with others; if we want grace, we should be gracious with others.

We should look after ourselves and be concerned about our own sins. We should work to change ourselves, making ourselves better. We cannot do that if we are constantly watching others, waiting for them to fall into some sort of sin so that we can criticize them. This will might lead us to find excuses for our own sins, or else, might lead us to think we are not as bad as others. Such pride proves otherwise. Thus, even if we do not speak aloud our thoughts, the words in our heart are very loud, and in that babbling, we are incapable of listening to the voice of the Lord.[1] We must find a way to fight against the temptation to look for people to judge and condemn. We do this by treating others with love and respect. Thus, if we encounter someone who does not want to admit their sin, instead of judging them and telling them how bad they are, we should embrace them with love and encourage them to be the best they can be, as Abba Poemen wisely indicated:

Abba Poemen said, ‘If a man sinned and denies it, saying: “I have not sinned,” do not reprimand him; for that will discourage him. But say to him, “Do not lose heart, brother, but be on guard in future,” and you will still his soul to repentance.’[2]

How do we like to be treated by others?  What motivates us to be better? If people relentlessly ridicule us for some mistake which we have done, does it motivate us, or does it make us fall into despair?  And if it makes us despair, do we not find ourselves tempted to give up and do nothing, or worse, embrace what we have done because we feel we can do no better? If, on the other hand, people treat us with kindness and respect, showing us a better way of being by their own actions instead of demanding it of us, giving us the encouragement we need whenever we find ourselves stumbling around and falling into sin again and again, do we not find it easier to pick ourselves up and try again to do what is good and just? God knows this. Thus, God has shown, and continues to show, longsuffering kindness to all humanity, not only by patiently waiting for us to see for ourselves what we have done and so that we change our ways, but by coming to us in the incarnation, taking on the burden of our sin all the way to the depths of hell itself. Sin does not have to have the last word. We do not have to lose heart when we find ourselves fighting bad habits. When dealing with others, we should imitate God’s longsuffering kindness. And just as Jesus came into the world, not to judge it, but to save it, so we should likewise go out in the world with the grace which we have received and use it to help save the world.  This is what is expected of us; once we have  received such grace, we should share it with those in need, as John Colet understood:

Since herein we imitate the inestimable goodness of God, who bestows and imparts himself indue order to all; and who gives whatever he gives, to the intent that it should in turn be straightway transmitted by the receiver to another, so far as meet: that thus, by the gifts of God being distributed and dispersed from one to another, all alike may own that God is good, and may be themselves also united together through the divine goodness.[3]

Being gracious, sharing God’s grace with others, gives us the bond which we need to unite with them. Truly, with grace, we can be one with others. Once we have established such unity, we will find that we are greater together than we were when we were apart from each other. We are greater together, united as one. Judgment, and the condemnation which flows from it, would have us separate from each other, so that divided, we can be conquered and easily overcome by sin. The more we hold onto a spirit of condemnation, the more we follow after the example of the great accuser, Satan, who accuses us in order to divide us from others, so that, individually, we are much more to grievous sin.

“Be sober, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1Ptr. 5:8 RSV). Satan, “the devil,” goes around looking for someone to accuse and devour, while Jesus, the incarnate one, goes out into the world to save it. Who, then will be our example? Who will we follow? Will we make ourselves like the devil and let him become our metaphorical father (cf. Jn. 8:44), seeking to destroy all those who come into our path through our judgment, or will we make ourselves like Christ and reveal ourselves to have become children of God by showing others mercy and love? We are not denying sin by showing such mercy and grace, but rather, we are taking it seriously, for it is in such seriousness we know that those who are imprisoned by sin need our love and grace instead of our condemnation. This is because such condemnation, far from taking sin seriously, finds every excuse to ignore sin by degrading the sinner, making sure they remain in their sin.


 

[1] See The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 171 [Saying of Poemen  #27].

[2] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 170 [Saying of Poemen  #23].

[3] John Colet, “Celestial Hierarchy” in Two Treatises on the Hierarchies of Dionysius. Trans. Joseph Hirst Lupton (London: Chiswick Press, 1869), 1-2.

 

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