Monday of the First Week of Lent
Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18; Psalm 19; Matthew 25:31-46
What do a Swedish botanist, a fish the size of my little finger and the last judgement have in common? A surprising amount. Carl Linnaeus was an 18th Century botanist who came up with the current way of classifying living things (e.g. humans are homo sapien, dogs are canis familiaris etc). Why did he do this? Humans have a innate need to classify things and he was able to come up with an extremely systematic means of classifying all manner of living things. It makes study of plants and animals that much easier. That’s the good side of classification. Taken to an extreme, classification could lead to being judgmental, prejudiced and biased. That can in turn lead to much harm to others.
The Gospel for today shows that God also does some classification at the last judgement. That stands to reason as God has the ultimate right to judge the creators that were created by the creator. We also know that we should not judge as God alone as the right to do so. That’s all old hat. But what’s interesting is if we look at how we sometimes judge ourselves prematurely. We studiously avoid judging others but we sometimes make the mistake of judging ourselves, putting ourselves into a poor state before we even begin anything. We see ourselves as goats who cannot change and can get stuck in that for a long time.
What a disservice we do to ourselves, judging ourselves as unworthy before we even begin living our lives properly. The example of the little fish the size of my little finger can help. A certain species of pupfish live in a small area of Death Valley, a desert in Nevada, USA. These fish are highly endangered and because of their adaptation to their harsh environment, cannot live elsewhere. Their isolation also contributed to some genetic disorders. Scientists trying to save this species almost gave up and felt that the species would ultimately die out in time but during some tests in a lab, a different species of pupfish from another part of Nevada was found to have been able to breed with this rare species. There was a chance that this fish could be saved. We’re like those scientists sometimes, all to ready to give up (on ourselves) before a chance is given. We should not count ourselves out before giving ourselves a chance.
While we’re not pupfish that need the care of scientists, we do need to be able to take care of ourselves, both physically and spiritually. Doing the latter means not giving up on ourselves too early or thinking that we don’t have a chance to get better even before we try. God doesn’t judge us till the very end so there’s still a chance to get ourselves into the side with the sheep if we try. That’s what Lent and God’s mercy is for – to bring ourselves into the space for conversion and to be open to God working in us in whatever way that we need. After all, we need practice to become good people.
That’s the message of the first reading. We’re told many things that we should and should not do but it ends with summary of what we need to do – to love one’s neighbour as oneself. How are we to love our neighbours as ourselves if we’re unable to love ourselves in the first place? While we do need to be realistic and know our faults and the fact that we are indeed sinners, we should also not get bogged down with judging ourselves before God does. Let’s try to be less judgemental of ourselves this Lent – be kind to ourselves, be realistic and not overly scrupulous, while seeking to love others as much as we can, knowing that this ability to love comes from God. We love as we can and let the Lord do the rest.