Third Sunday in Advent
The Epistle. I Corinthians 4. 1.
Brethren: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgement: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing against myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart: and then shall every man have praise of God.
In this passage from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle begins with something of a contradiction. In the original Greek the word “ministers” is sometimes translated as “servants”; and not just any ordinary type of servant, but one who was of a lower sort; such as someone who was consigned to be among those who rowed barges and boats.
St. Paul seems to elevate this position by making the correlation of the status of “servant” with that of a “steward”. A steward had very much more status and authority than a “servant” for he was responsible for the smooth administration of his masters’ house and estate. But even as these two “positions” seem to be very different, they are at the same time very much alike; because whether you were a “rower” or a “steward”, you were still a slave to the master.
All of this brings St. Paul to the idea of “judgement”; or, putting it another way, how, and it what manner, should we be judged. The questions that need to be asked are quite simple; who should judge us, and by what criteria?
If we were to compare this to our secular life, we might think of this concept as a “performance review”. In my own secular experience, there were three components to such reviews; there was, of course, the analysis of the “up-line manager”, or supervisor; there was a “personal” or “self-review”, where you would document your accomplishments and failings (hopefully with all honesty); and then there was the “360 degree” review, where the opinions of those who worked for or with you were solicited.
In combination these “performance reviews” were intended to present an accurate picture of where you stood; they were intended to tell you about your strengths and weaknesses; they were intended to show where you excelled; but more importantly, they were intended to tell you where you needed to improve. And above all, these “reviews” informed you of the criteria by which you would be judged in the future.
This is the theme that St. Paul is touching upon when he writes about “judgement”. As Christians, we are subjected to that “360 degree review” on a daily basis. The Apostle seems to say that we should not be overly concerned about this, but it stands to reason that cannot completely disregard the opinions of the secular word. It is true that we should never let the secular world dictate what we believe; but it is also true that the way that we express our belief is reflected in the way that the world reacts to us. If the world sees us as hateful or hypocritical, then we need to examine why this is so, and change our “performance”, so that the world sees us instead as loving.
Next, and this is really difficult, we must do that “personal” or “self-review”. In doing so we must guard against any feeling of “self-satisfaction” because we have faithfully attended Mass on Sunday and on the High Holy Days. We cannot think that we are “greater Catholics”, because we have made our confession and served our Penance. We cannot think that we are in any way superior because we know more about the Catholic Faith, are more faithful in all the Holy observances, and are more “detailed” in our liturgical practices. In doing this, we must examine our lives in all honesty, and then commit ourselves to amending our faults and imperfections.
Finally, there is the judgement of God. Again, in my secular experience, one could go through the “personal” and “360 degree” review, but ultimately the only judgement that mattered was that of the “up-line manager or supervisor”. So likewise, must we face God’s judgement.
You see, it is a good and worthy thing that we should be mindful of the way that we are perceived by the world. Likewise, it is a wise practice that we should examine ourselves and our lives and honestly admit our sins and offences. But the ultimate criteria by which we will finally be judged has been set by Our Lord himself; “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength” (Mark 12:30).
When you get down to it, it is only the judgement of God that really matters. Even if we are somehow able to change the perception of the world, even if we are able to do that honest examination of our lives, still, it is only God who knows all, sees all; it is only God who can “fill in” anything that we have left out; it is only God who can truly judge our performance.
God will judge us not just by our actions, but also by our thoughts, our motives, our intentions. To be sure, God will see and take note of our deeds, but He also knows what is in our hearts and minds. And if our hearts are not right, if our thoughts are not properly focused, well, that will also be noted when it comes time for our “performance review”.
But now we must recall the reason for the “performance review”; they were intended to present an accurate picture of where you stood; they were intended to tell you about your strengths and weaknesses; they were intended to show where you excelled; but more importantly, they were intended to tell you where you needed to improve. And above all, these “reviews” informed you of the criteria by which you would be judged in the future. However, there’s one thing that I didn’t mention earlier; that criteria was based on your job description.
So, what is our “job description”? St. Paul gives us a hint “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful“. We are slaves; slaves to God. And as slaves, we are required to heed Him, to obey Him, and most of all, to love Him, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength”. You will notice that nowhere in this description are we commanded to judge anyone else. Again, that is only for God.
As we continue in this Advent Season, as the Birth of Our Lord draws ever closer, let us be mindful of how we conduct ourselves in our daily lives; so that all who see us will likewise see a true follower of Christ. Let us constantly examine our actions and deeds; being ever aware of our thoughts and motives, and always attempting to live with the love of God in our hearts. Let us never presume to judge others, because only God may do that. And let us always remember that we are His creatures, His slaves, His Creation; for in the end it is God who will give us the ultimate “performance review”; it is God who will pronounce the ultimate judgement.
Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the heart: