Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? As you go to a magistrate with an adversary, try to make things up with him while still on the road. Otherwise he might drag you before the judge and the judge will hand you over to the bailiff and the bailiff will throw you into jail. I tell you, you will not leave there until you pay the last penny.
In his commentary on this passage, Luke Timothy Johnson writes:
But in Luke, . . . [this passage] is parabolic for this moment in the narrative of the Prophet’s progression to Jerusalem. They are the ones “on the road” who must make their decision now, before it is too late. If they do not “settle things” now with their adversary—in this instance the Prophet himself who calls them to conversion—then it will be harder for them in the judgment to come. (The Gospel of Luke, p. 209)
While the comparable passage in Matthew is a teaching about fraternal relations, in Luke it is a pointed summons to conversion, a call to a reckoning with oneself in the present moment. To imagine this moment on the journey with Jesus and to hear Jesus turn to ourselves, as he did to those with him, and tell us “to make up our minds” at this moment and to stop putting off our decision and commitment is a defining challenge.
Last evening we spent a wonderful few hours with some close friends. In the course of our speaking, one of them asked another when in his life did his vocation, his path in life, become clear. He responded humorously but truthfully that even up to now it often was quite unclear, in the sense of absolutely certain. If we are truthful, I think this would be the response of all of us. It was very engaging to ask each other about when we knew our call to marry our spouse or to enter religious life. How did we come to know that this person is the “one” for us, or “this” is the life path for us?
The picture with which Johnson’s interpretation leaves us is of those who are drawn to Jesus largely out of spite, envy, and fear, but who, nonetheless, are experiencing a form of attraction to him. Jesus turns to them, as he does to us, and says, “Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” Stop judging based on your social position and the opinions of your crowd, the other religious leaders, and “judge for yourselves.” The challenge he poses is to their, and so our, integrity. Jesus seems to say to us: “Go to the place in yourself that is really you, and from that place judge for yourself who I am — which means who you really are.”
In religious circles, we speak often of loving God and, for us Christians, loving Jesus. I must admit to often having great difficulty with understanding exactly what is meant by this. As I have often understood love, as we speak of it, for example, in the experience of “falling in love,” I have never been able to apply it to God or Jesus. Yet, hearing love in terms of the words of today’s gospel significantly changes my own perspective — and my sense of the meaning of discipleship.
“Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right?” Jesus’ question is an echo of a statement of Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche, which Thomas Merton would often quote: “From now on everybody stands on his own feet.” Jesus is calling us to get things right with him. What this means is to judge for ourselves, by the truth that we know in the depths of our own being. It is not to respond as part of a group or a crowd, or to follow the impulses of our unconscious or the pulsations of our culture. It is not to relate to him by our functional ambitions for recognition or wealth or socially bestowed significance. It is not to follow him out of laziness and a refusal of responsibility for our own life. What Jesus is always asking us is to “love” him by living, speaking, and acting from the place of integrity and responsibility in our own souls.
Whom we love is really who we are. In our conversation last evening, our friend who had begun the conversation said that before she met the person who is now her husband, she had come to believe that there was no one who was right for her. She had made peace with the fact that this was to be her way. And so, what happened when she met the one she would recognize to be her husband and companion? Did she perhaps recognize and so commit herself to another with whom she would be more herself, more who she truly was, than without him? As Walter Cohn says, lovers are those who create a shared interpretation of each other. Through this shared interpretation lovers create a framework of shared aspiration, a reverberation between them of the call of God that each of them is.
So, to hear Jesus ask us today to “judge for yourselves what is right,” requires us to ask of ourselves, why exactly are we refusing to judge for ourselves, to commit ourselves to make things up with him now and not procrastinate? I evade the encounter with Jesus because, as the question of Jesus implies, I am evading the encounter with myself. In my acedia, my spiritual laziness, I prefer to have my life carried along by social pulsations, the spirit of the crowd, and by my own comfortable habits. To love someone is to live out the aspiration to become ever more true and authentic in their presence and to call them, in turn, to their truth. We need to make things right with Jesus to the extent, like the Pharisees and Scribes, we are living out a false form of our lives; we are living in fear of the truth.
Jesus tells those who are committed to his destruction that after he dies it will be too late to make things right with him. So, too, for us. I am often amazed at how I “put off” what I am really called to do and who I am called to be, thinking that there will be time later on. I don’t have time to meditate now, there are all these other things to do first. But, I’ll make time tomorrow. I don’t have time for that necessary conversation with someone with whom I’ve fallen out, but I’ll find time next week. I don’t have time to spend with a good friend right now, but I’ll get to it later. I make decision after decision in life based on far less than judging for myself what is right.
If I think back many years, I recall with sadness my avoidance of really speaking with my own parents. I kept delaying until my father was dead and my mother was lost in dementia, until it was too late. As my own formation consistently changes my perspective, my view and appreciation of them, I am saddened that I never really heard from them what they were going through. To judge for ourselves what is right would mean to live in the presence of a Divine Call that is, at each moment, appealing to me to do “the one thing necessary.” So, to love God or Jesus is to become responsible for my life and for the unique call that is my life in each present moment. At certain moments that love may be affective — a sense of awe and gratitude for the unique call that is my life and for the One who has given it to me. But more often, that love is responsibility, the ability to respond by judging for myself what is right.
. . . [Robert] Solomon wants to insist that love is something we actively do, not some passive thing that happens to us. Despite all the sentimental rhetoric to the contrary, we do not fall in love; we rather judge, decide, choose to love. Thus, we are responsible for our loving. Solomon’s point is that we do not simply come upon and fall captive to, but that we constitute the charms and virtues of the person we choose to love. Love, like other emotions, is a set of constitutive judgments, in this case, “to the effect that we will see in this person every possible virtue, ignore or overlook every possible vice, celebrating cults as well as charms in the context of his or her total personality. The virtues and charms lovers “discover,” then, are actually created through interpretation. It is the interpretation that is discovered. Even the parameters of one’s love are a set of self-legislated ideals and standards. Like the other emotions, love establishes a framework, a set of standards within which we commit ourselves, and “to which the world, other people, and, most importantly, our Selves are expected to comply.”
Walter Cohn, Christian Conversion, p. 141