Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Lent Week 4 Wednesday

Readings: Isaiah 49:8-15; Psalm 144; John 5:17-30

Christ is our judge, appointed to this office by the Father who has seated him at his right hand. What do we hear in the sentence 'Christ is our judge'? It may be that the word 'judge' stands out, making us fearful. Contemporary culture encourages the non-judgemental which strengthens what seems like a natural anxiety about our lives, our work, or our actions being judged.

It is, however, part of the wonderful good news that Christ is our judge. The word in the sentence that stood out for the first Christian believers was the word 'Christ' and not the word 'judge'. What a blessed relief it is, and what a gift, that the judge of our lives, our work, and our actions, is Jesus Christ. Nobody else, in the end. Of course we are all the time judging others and being judged by them. But the import of this gospel is that in the end, fundamentally, and most radically, we are judged by Christ, and by him alone.

There is even more, since for those who believe in him there will be a judgement without judgement - 'without being brought to judgement they pass from death to life' (John 5:24). Those who believe in him know the truth and there is no need for a further moment in which the relationship between their lives and the truth needs to be pointed out. In seeing the truth, those who believe see the distance between themselves and truth. They see their lives, their work, and their actions, in the light of truth, at once perfectly just and infinitely compassionate - and so they are judged without being judged.

Two great representations of the Last Judgement illustrate the point. The best known Last Judgement scene is that of Michelangelo, in the Sistine Chapel. A huge, brooding Christ comes to separate sheep and goats, just and unjust, and his presence is formidable and terrifying. The fact that this has become the best known Last Judgement scene serves to confirm that we know more about fear than we do about love.

A less well-known Last Judgement, whose theology is much sounder than Michelangelo's, is that of Fra Angelico in the priory of San Marco in Florence. There is the same separation of sheep and goats, of just and unjust, but Christ is not terrifying. He is gentle, and beautiful, and all he does is show his wounds. Those who believe in him do not need any further evaluation or criterion for assessing their lives, work, and actions. They are judged by the truth of his loving sacrifice and glorious resurrection and in the light of that truth can judge themselves: they see what is the case.

The saintly person knows that he falls seven times a day. Those of us whose consciences have become less sharp are not equipped to see the true state of our lives, work, and actions. Then judgement is needed, we need help, that things be pointed out and made clear for us. Jesus says further on in Saint John's gospel, 'the word that I have spoken will be (your) judge on the last day', the Word from the Father that is truth (John 12:48; 17:17).

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