Summary: Justice isn’t necessarily a desirable thing. Better to receive God’s grace than to have justice applied to our lives.
I haven’t watched much of the winter Olympics this last fortnight, but I did happen to be watching the night there was all the controversy about the figure skating. I saw the Russian pair do their thing, then watched as the commentary team analysed their performance in slow motion showing all the mistakes they’d made. Then I watched the Canadian pair do what appeared to be a flawless routine, only to be awarded the silver medal behind the Russians. Well, it seemed fairly obvious even to my untrained eye that a great injustice had been done. And so it did to a great majority of others. So much so that there was a call for an inquiry. People wanted to see justice done and in the end the Canadians were made equal gold medallists with the Russians.
We feel a great sense of outrage, don’t we, when we see some injustice done. We’ve seen it in the last few weeks with the controversy over the Governor- General’s role in dealing with child sex abusers. We don’t want to see people getting away with what we perceive as evil deeds. We’ve seen it this last week with Kevan Gosper’s son being admitted to Melbourne Uni ahead of others who had equal or higher scores than he.
We’ve seen it with the boat people scandal - the asylum seekers who didn’t in fact throw their children overboard. People have been crying out for an explanation, for the truth behind the claims by the government before the election that these people were throwing their children overboard to get our sympathy. We’re outraged by the thought that it was in fact the politicians who were looking for our sympathy and playing up these fictitious reports just to get votes.
And if the truth should turn out to be that they knew the real story all along, then we’d be crying out for justice to be done.
Paul is writing to the Romans, to a church made up of Jews and Gentiles, to convince them that salvation comes by God’s grace alone. He wants them to understand that salvation is law-free, grace based and Christ centred. So he’s begun by pointing out how the efforts of human beings to obey God are essentially flawed, that rather than responding to the truth of God as witnessed to by the creation, we’ve suppressed the truth and followed our own foolish thinking. And he can just imagine some of the people in the church there thinking to themselves how right Paul is; how terrible the world outside the church has become, how deluded people are, perhaps even how deluded some of them used to be, before they saw the light. How just God would be to bring down the fire of his judgement on these people. And he imagines, especially, how the Jewish Christians in the church may be reacting to his statements about the foolishness of pagan religion.
This is how people so often react in fact. They look at other people’s foolishness or wickedness and pass judgement on them. The evils that Paul has pointed out are so obvious that anyone can see how far those people have gone astray. But, Paul points out, they’re making a mistake in judging these people. In fact they’re making three mistakes. Can you see what they are?
A false basis for judgement
The first mistake is that they’re using a false basis for judgement. They’re judging these people as though they’re different from themselves. That’s so often the way we judge others isn’t it? It’s as though we have faulty vision. Now I can speak with some authority on this. There was a time, you see, when I had 2020 vision at all distances. Just 8 or 9 years ago I could examine the fine print of the newspaper very comfortably without squinting. I could see as far into the distance as the horizon allowed. But then I got old! I developed presbyopia, literally old-age vision. My eyes could no longer focus on anything close to me. I can see very clearly anything that’s some distance away, but when I look up close it’s all fuzzy. Well, it’s a bit like that when we judge other people. We can see quite clearly all the faults that they have, but when we look down at ourselves, or even look in the mirror, it’s a bit fuzzy. The specks are a bit harder to see. Of course, Jesus warned us about this didn’t he. He told us to be careful about offering to remove a speck from our neighbours eye, when our own eye has a plank in it.
So, here, Paul warns them that when they pass judgement on others they’re in great danger, because the judgement is likely to apply equally to them. I can’t help thinking that a good number of the people who are now crying foul about the children overboard fiction, are the same people who responded to the opinion polls at the time applauding the government for the hard line they were taking and who rewarded the government for that strong stand by re-electing them against all the odds. "Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things."