We are challenged to recognize our own weaknesses and to endeavor to develop the habits of humble self-discipline in our own lives. We are to practice bending our wills to the will of God in all things.
Today’s verse gives us good, practical advice about finding the balance in our behaviors and in our judgments toward others. It is a great admonition to all of us to be more self-reflective, to learn the value of humility in all things. It is also a Pauline exhortation to find the balance, the narrow path, and to avoid the false lure of extremes. If we look at the history of the Church from the very beginning, we can see that this message was forgotten many times. That is why its message remains fresh and challenging to us even today.
We are challenged in this brief section of this First Letter to Timothy to publicly reprimand those whose sins are clearly public, so that others may take heed, but we are also challenged at the same time not to judge too hastily. And, when we are called upon to judge, we are to do so without partiality or favoritism. Paul reminds us that we must, “Keep [ourselves] pure.” This is a very difficult reality. If we are honest with ourselves, we might be feeling a bit overwhelmed by the seriousness of this message.
In fact, the centerpiece of this message is not in the idea of judging, but in the idea of keeping ourselves as “pure” as possible, with the grace of God. We are challenged to recognize our own weaknesses and to endeavor to develop the habits of humble self-discipline in our own lives. We are to practice bending our wills to the will of God in all things. It is only by becoming more “pure” that we will be able to judge in the manner that we are called to in Christ Jesus. We are to judge, not out of self-righteousness and hypocrisy, but out of humble love and mercy toward the sinner. Our judgment is not to be punitive and vengeful, but merciful and instructive. If we are “pure” in our own lives, it is because we have recognized our own sins and turned them over to God. It is in recognizing our own sinfulness and turning humbly to Jesus for his forgiveness and his grace to, “go and sin no more,” that we come to know the depths of his love for us. If we know God’s love for us, we will know how to “judge” the sins of others out of that same love. He does not condemn the sinner, he saves him and he encourages him to return to the narrow path that leads to the kingdom of God. This, then, is how we are to conduct ourselves toward others.
Can you see how this implies that we are to avoid the temptation of extremisms of any kind, but especially any kind that claims the absolute authority of religion? If we are pure, it is because we have become more like Jesus, that is, humble of heart and magnanimous of soul. These are not the traits of extremists. The extremist is one who does not see his or her own sins, only the sins of others. The extremist claims a false purity. Extremists are hypocrites. They are the Pharisees among us. Their judgments are arbitrary and unforgiving and are the product of merciless and self-righteous anger, rather than of loving kindness. They are often filled with violence and murderous intent. These are not the actions of one who is truly pure in the sense that is spoken of here in First Timothy. As Christians, we are called to a higher bar by the example of Jesus Christ.
“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
where there is injury, pardon,
where there is doubt, faith,
where there is despair, hope,
where there is darkness, light,
and where there is sadness, joy.
O, Divine Master, grant that I may
not so much seek to be consoled as to console,
to be understood as to understand,
to be loved, as to love,
for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning
that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we
are born to eternal life.” (Prayer of St. Francis)
We pray this in your most holy name, Jesus. Amen!
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