We know the Sunday school depictions of the self-righteous Pharisees who embodied this passage—so focused on getting the law right that they failed to embody its spirit, so eager to catch another in error that they forgot about God’s wild grace altogether.
Of course we know better. I struggle in my efforts to follow God—but surely not like they did.
Having grown up Baptist, I was unfamiliar with the liturgical calendar until I was an adult. When I discovered the riches of the church year, it was as if the lights suddenly came on in a dark room. I loved marking Advent, and even ordinary time took on a deeper hue as I understood how attending to the everyday mirrors the ways we wait for Christ’s return.
But Lent was always my favourite season. I loved the invitation to self-examination, to exploring what aspects of my life might be hindering my encounters with God. What might be blocking my vision? Where could I clear away space for Jesus to enter in? Each year I gave up something to make that room—TV, dessert, alcohol, coffee. In those first few days, the pain of that mini-sacrifice was sharp, clear. I’d remember to pray when I felt the cravings. I paid attention. I looked for God.
After a couple of weeks though—around now—the novelty had worn off. I needed my coffee already. God felt tantalizingly distant. Lent definitely wasn’t fun anymore.
And then I became irritable. I snapped at the people I lived with. I was ill-tempered and terribly impatient. And then I got angry at myself because I was failing at Lent.
Maybe I wasn’t so different from the Pharisees. I was trying to do something good for God, but I got it wrong.
Author and theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “We are all of us judged every day. We are judged by the face that looks back at us from the bathroom mirror. We are judged by the faces of the people we love and by the faces and lives of our children and by our dreams.”
His words remind me that each of us fails. We judge each other. Giant logs blind our vision. But then he adds that in the end our judge will be Christ. “In other words, the one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully.” Thank God.
Cathy Norman Peterson