Desert Wisdom: A Difficult Challenge

The matter of non-judgment is an extremely difficult one to practice properly.  We tend to fall off either on the side of naive latitude or the side of excessive condemnation.  The principle of non-judgment avoids the extremes.

Some of you reading Oboedire will know that right now on Fridays we are looking at that part of Benedict’s Rule which deals with excommunication.  If you have not been reading these posts, you might want to do so as a way to integrate them in your thinking.  It’s timely to have them appearing together, and it is an evidence that the early Christians did not take non-judgment to mean either naiveté or condemnation.

The focal point of non-judgment is making sure that we do not come to think more of the sins of others than we do of our own.  One saying in Chapter Nine shows this to be so.  It’s Saying 9 for those of you who have the text to go by.  It’s the story of Pior, who carried a sack full of sand on his shoulders, and basket with a little sand in it in his hands.

The sins in his hands represented the sins of another.  The sins on his shoulder represented his own sins.  The mistake he said we make is concentrating too much on the “few” sins of another which we can see in the basket and neglecting the “many” sins of ours which we cannot see on our shoulders.

The story is rather long, so I have not quoted it.  But the point is, we get things backward.  We should see our sins and forgive the sins of others.  This will give us the right perspective and create the right spirit when we have to deal with someone else’s sins.  It’s an application of Jesus’ warning that we should not focus on the speck in another’s eye while ignoring the plank in ours.

So…let’s be clear.  The early Christians did not excuse the sins of others.  But they did not become so focused on them that they came to ignore their own.  Instead, they learned from their sinfulness how to relate to the sinfulness of others, and by beginning with their own sins, they found the context out of which forgiveness and reconciliation is born—the context of humility.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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