Does humility mean pardoning a murderer?

To worry about one’s purity of motive… was to confuse the means, that is, a life of Christian discipline, with the end, the life of love… Whether I give grudgingly or gladly, out of desire to be recognized or hoping not to be recognized, has little to do with the neighbor’s need that must be fulfilled. Love does not center on itself: “I was hungry and you gave me food,” Jesus says in Matt. 25:25, and he says nothing about the state of mind of the giver. Not that the state of mind does not matter, it is just that filling the need of the neighbor comes before questions about the purity of our motives when we do it.

A humble heart remembers that to remain above reproach is not the fundamental task of the Christian…[a monastic story illustrating this point:]

Abba Alonius said to Abba Agathon: “Suppose two men committed murder in your presence and one of them fled to your cell. When the police, coming in search of him, ask you, ‘Is the murderer with you?’ unless you lie, you hand him over to execution.”

If the fulfillment of the moral law for its own sake is seen to be the point of the law, the temptation is, in cases of doubt, to err on the side of caution. But if the point of the law is love, then the Christian must be prepared to take real risks for the sake of other people… It must have been a great temptation to the early Christian monastic  to try to codify the moral law for himself of herself in such a way that there would be no ambiguity left, that one could always know what to do without having to take responsibility for the suffering of others that might result from one’s moral action. Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid having to use one’s own judgment then, just as there is no way now, once it is granted that the goal is love rather than fulfilling a legal code.

Somehow, the very idea that we should at all times be above reproach makes a mockery of repentance and forgiveness as well as love. It suggests the need always to look good in the sight of the neighbor, never to be caught at fault.

From To Love as God Loves by Roberta C. Bondi.


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