Thinking Anew – How will we be judged?
The gospel reading warns against misjudging people
To say that Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche International, was considered a hero by Christians is an understatement, and when he died last year his life of service to people with disabilities was widely acknowledged. Recently, however, L’Arche released a report, indicating that there was “sufficient evidence to establish that Vanier engaged in manipulative sexual relationships with at least six adult (not disabled) women over a 30-year period”.
For those who were once inspired by this man and his work, not to mention his writings, this was devastating news, but sadly he is just another name to be added to a long list of eminent and often privileged people who remind us that the ongoing power struggle between good and evil is a factor in every human life.
In one of his books Vanier refers to “something over which we have no control, the terrifying powers of darkness in us.” St Paul put it another way: “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do-this I keep on doing.”
Understandably people were offended by Vanier’s betrayal of trust but passing judgment is another matter, according to Anglican theologian Norman Pittenger in his book The Last Things: “Only [God] can make a final judgment. His appraisal will be accurate, while at the same time it will be merciful. In stating this I am trying to indicate what seems to me the insight in the traditional view that God is just, not in the human sense of meting out . . . the proper rewards or punishments according to some prior set of laws or regulations, but in the divine sense of complete understanding. Further I am trying to indicate, by the word ‘mercy’, that God’s appraisal is more than accurate, in terms of complete understanding; it is also characterised by God’s loving kindness, his never failing mercy which always makes the best out of every situation and finds the best in every person.”
Jean Vanier’s failures represent loss for humanity, an issue raised in tomorrow’s Old Testament reading which discusses the fall of King Saul. He is judged a failure and is to be replaced and forgotten but the first line of the reading reminds us there is a human side to such events: “The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel.”
Samuel grieves because he had known and admired Saul in better times and served him loyally. Samuel grieves at the loss of possibility, for what might have been, something worth remembering even when someone falls through his or her own folly and weakness.
The gospel reading warns against misjudging people. The main character is a blind beggar who depends on charity for his survival. He is spoken about and not to. His disability is said to be the result of sin. (Is this how we feel about the homeless on our streets?) He is not listened to and when people want to know anything about him, they ask his parents. The man is healed by Jesus but when he tries to explain his transformation by Jesus, he is accused, interrogated and even ostracised; the onlookers simply don’t get it.
But this is not just a story about one man’s blindness; it is also about the disciples, the Pharisees, who choose not to see what is in front of them, a warning to all of us. This broader application is strengthened by the suggestion that the Greek translated “a man born blind” could also mean “humanity, blind from birth”. The real judgment is on those who regularly saw the man begging but were unable to identify with him. They could see because they passed him every other day, but they had never taken time to take a closer look. That is an uncomfortable message for anyone walking the streets of our towns and cities, home to so many who are unwanted and intentionally unseen. How will we be judged?