On Refusal to Judge
Sermon on the 11th Sunday after Pentecost
St. Matthew 18:23–35
The parable begins: Therefore the kingdom of heaven is likened unto... By beginning in this way we are alerted that this parable is teaching us a principle, a pillar reality of the kingdom of heaven. None of us will enter into the kingdom of heaven if we do not forgive our brother. Or rather, we will lose the forgiveness of God, won for us by Jesus Christ, if we refuse also to forgive.
If you really read and hear this Gospel, it is frightening. The judgments and relationships that are not reconciled are not insignificant but critical. The mystery of the Christian Faith is built on forgiveness-God's forgiveness of us, our forgiveness of our brother, and even our forgiveness of our enemy. How dreadful a thing it is for us to risk losing God's forgiveness!
Knowing this principle, this pillar reality, one man had a strategy-I will never judge another person!
There was a layman who went to a skete on Mt. Athos in hopes of becoming a monk. The Fathers of the skete wouldn't accept him because he was idle, mischievous, negligent and a trouble-maker. Nevertheless they allowed him to stay and work there as a laymen. At the end of his life as he was about to die he lay on his bed in a state of ecstasy, making signs and movements. The Fathers begged him to tell then what was happening.
Gathering his strength he related that he had been in the presence of the Archangel Michael, had been reviewing a scroll listing his sins. The Archangel told him that the dreadful state in which he had lived in the monastery oriented him towards hell. The brother asked the Archangel if the scroll contained any occurrence of judging his brother. The Archangel said that it didn't. Then the brother reasoned with the Archangel, "According to the Gospel if I did not judge, neither should I be judged." The Archangel then tore up the paper and told him that he would be going to Paradise. The Fathers listened in amazement.
"Though you told me that I wouldn't make it as a monk, I went to Church on feast days and once I heard the gospel: Do not judge that you be not judged. And I told myself: Wretched man, at least you can do this. This way I was saved without any other effort."
Seeing our own fault and need for forgiveness may be a long process. In today's Gospel the slave who was in debt suddenly became painfully aware when his Lord called for payment. How will we ever become aware of our debt before the hour of our death? Even though St. Mary of Egypt's life was so boldly sinful she didn't repent or feel the sting of conscience until she was repelled from entering the Church where the faithful were venerating the Cross of the Lord. Seeing our sins is the sign of divine illumination. We need to work on this.
Here is some help from St. Gregory of Nyssa:
Let us count, beginning from here, the trespasses of man towards God.
First of all, man was guilty of punishment by God, because he estranged himself from his Creator and went over to the enemy, by running away and revolting against his natural Lord.
Secondly, because he exchanged his independent freedom with the deadly slavery of sin and chose to be governed by the power of destruction, instead of remaining near God.
Is there a greater evil than not to see the beauty of the Creator, but instead, to turn one's face to the ugliness of sin?
What sort of punishment should be set for the contempt of the divine goods and preference of the lures used by the devil?
Also, who can enumerate man's myriad trespasses? The destruction of the image and the ruin of the seal, we received at our initial creation. The loss of the drachma and the departure form the paternal table. The addiction to the filthy life of the swine and the waste of the precious wealth and all the other similar trespasses we can find in the Holy Bible and think of by ourselves, who can enumerate them? (St. Gregory of Nyssa, At Prayer, Homily V, Greek Fathers of the Church Vol 8, p. 107).
Is he talking about the past? We continue to do this even now. That is why even as great a saint as St. John of Kronstadt acknowledged his fault when he joined himself with his spiritual children saying:
Fellow sinner! If you have already acknowledged yourselves to be the greatest sinners, worthy of every censure and torment, if you have known the vileness and absurdity of sins, if you sense how immeasurably you offend the Lord God through them, if you feel your great responsibility for them, if you hunger and thirst for God's justification and mercy, then try to show all the mercy you can to those around you: Blessed are the merciful, says the Lord, for they shall obtain mercy." P.59 Ten Homilies on the Beatitudes, St. John of Kronstadt, Cornerstone Edition.
"Nothing is more serious, nothing more difficult to deal with than the judging of our brother," says St. Abba Dorotheos.
Therefore be careful to treat your neighbor with love. At least we can follow the example of the negligent brother from Mount Athos who refused to judge anyone and won his salvation without any other work.