If you’ve ever wondered how the Samaritans came to be different from the Jews, today’s first reading gives a reasonably accurate account of it. As a helpful reminder, Samaria is located between Galilee and Judea. In addition to deporting Israelites from Samaria, the Assyrians also sent non-Israelites to inhabit the region This is how Samaritans became a distinct people who worshiped differently from the Israelites. The most notable feature of Samaritan religion is that rather than the Temple in Jerusalem, their holy place is Mount Gerizim.
Why were the Samaritans exiled? According to the inspired author of 2 Kings, it was because they worshiped idols instead of the one God, living and true. The deportation described occurred in BC 722, nearly 800 years before Jesus’s time.
In light of today’s Gospel, what becomes clear is that judgment is reserved to God alone. What is often considered divine judgment is really just the natural consequences of deeply ingrained “bad” behavior. The statutes and decrees of the Law that were being violated were things like failing to care for the widow and orphan, treating non-Israelites unjustly, the wealthy taking advantage of the poor, etc.
Who might some of the prophets this passage refers to be? None other than several of the twelve so-called “Minor Prophets.” Perhaps foremost among these are Hosea and Amos, both of whom prophesied before the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom.
Speaking specifically to the elite women of the Northern Kingdom, Amos said:
Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, who live on the mount of Samaria:Hosea was told by God to marry the prostitute Gomer. Each time Gomer was unfaithful to him, God told Hosea to remain faithful to her. The prophet’s relationship with his wayward wife serves as a symbol of God’s relationship with Israel.2 Today, we can understand it in reference to Christ’s relationship to his Bride, the Church, which the great Church Father, Ambrose, referred to as the casta meretrix (i.e., chaste whore).
Who oppress the destitute and abuse the needy;
Who say to your husbands, “Bring us a drink!”
The Lord GOD has sworn by his holiness:
Truly days are coming upon you when they shall drag you away with ropes, your children with fishhooks;
You shall go out through the breached walls one in front of the other, And you shall be exiled to Harmon1
The message conveyed by both Amos and Hosea is that God is faithful and merciful. God keeps his promises even when we fail to keep ours. God is not vengeful. God is kind and merciful. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s promises and proof positive that God is mercy.
For us mere mortals, Eve’s poor banished children, God’s wayward daughters and sons, we can only judge ourselves. When I take the time to judge myself by regularly examining my conscience and confessing my sins, I acknowledge God’s mercy, thus enabling me to receive forgiveness and, in turn, to extend it to others.
Nonetheless, there is a sense in which our impulse to judge is automatic. In-depth studies empirically demonstrate that our judgments are often rooted in biases of which we are unaware.3 This makes doing the work necessary of becoming aware of our biases and then striving to overcome them spiritual work. This is how repentance looks. Repentance requires the help of others and the aid of God’s grace.
Because it is necessary to love our neighbors, recognizing and working to eliminate our prejudicial biases is spiritual work. It is important to grasp the plight of those in our society who suffer the effects of our unexamined and implicit prejudices and preferences. Otherwise, we are liable to the same natural consequences and societal dissolution as ancient Israel.
To avoid judgments like the one Amos made against the elite women of the Northern Kingdom, who preferred maintaining their status and privilege to taking care of the least among them, the work identified is necessary. Because they hated “everyone who challenged injustice,” their sacrifices and offerings were unacceptable to God.4 This is why we need to heed Pope Francis’s call to create a culture of encounter.5 It is in the face of the other that we most immediately encounter Christ.
Judging myself and confessing my sins is not an admission of failure. It is how I seize hold of Christ’s victory. Because Christ’s Easter victory is our Easter victory, confession is where I go to claim Christ’s victory over death and sin. Therefore, never approach confession wondering whether God will forgive you. In and through Christ, you are always already forgiven. Going to confession makes this an experience, an encounter, something that really happens, and not just a pious thought.
Nevertheless, even Saint Paul wrote, “I do not pass even pass judgment on myself.”6 The apostle goes on to state, “the one who judges me is the Lord.”7 Typically, I am far harsher with myself than God is with me. This is why it is so vital for me to experience God’s tenderness.
Remembering Jesus’s words that you will be judged with the same judgment with which you judge endeavor to “be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”8
1 Amos 4:1-3.↩
2 See New American Bible Revised Edition: Introduction to The Book of Hosea.↩
3 See the book Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, Mahzarin R, Banali & Anthony G. Greenwald.↩
4 Amos 5:10.21-24.↩
5 Pope Francis, Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, On the Proclamation of the Gospel in Today's World, sec. 220.↩
6 1 Corinthians 4:3.↩
7 1 Corinthians 4:4.↩
8 Ephesians 4:32.↩