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The Burden of Judgment

The Burden of Judgment

Monday, May 5, 2014 – 3 Easter, Year Two

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:

Psalms 25 (morning) // 9, 15 (evening)

Exodus 18:13-27

1 Peter 5:1-14

Matthew (1:1-17); 3:1-6

When we meet Moses in the Scriptures this morning, he is carrying an impossibly heavy load. His father-in-law notices immediately that Moses is in danger of burnout: “you sit alone, while all the people stand around you from morning until evening”; “You will surely wear yourself out”; “the task is too heavy for you.” Exactly what task is isolating and burdening Moses? Apparently, he has taken it upon himself to sit in judgment over God’s people.

To be fair, the burden of judgment is foisted upon Moses by others . . . but he doesn’t turn it down, either. As he explains to his father-in-law, “the people come to me to inquire of God.” When the people have a dispute, Moses decides between the two parties. When the people have a question, Moses explains to them “the statutes and instructions of God.” Moses takes sole responsibility in his community for pronouncing judgments and for articulating the rules by which people will be judged.

Thankfully, Moses has someone in his life who counsels him to lay that burden down. At first glance, his father-in-law offers a solution that seems simply bureaucratic: Moses should choose several layers of leadership, delegate minor cases to lower-level courts, and hear only the hard cases himself. Under this system, Moses “will be able to endure, and all these people will go to their homes in peace.”

But this new approach to judgment offers God’s people more than an organizational fix. Moses’ new role is not to sit in judgment at all. His father-in-law tells him, “You should represent the people before God, and you should bring their cases before God.” In other words, Moses is not among his people to judge them, but to make a case for them as their public defender. As his people’s advocate, Moses can appeal to God for understanding, for compassion, and for the path that will lead them into justice and new life.

Also, the people Moses chooses to help him must be capable of serving as instruments of justice–people who “fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain.” A large part of Moses’ new ministry is to lift up others who are worthy of trust and who are immune to bribes and other financial incentives for withholding justice.

Today, we may be carrying burdens that are beyond our capacity to bear. Like the burden of judgment, our burdens may tax not only our limited time, but also our psychological and spiritual well-being. How long can any of God’s people endure in a position of judgment?

God does not want to saddle us with burdens that are too heavy for us . . . especially not the burden of judging others. Rather, God trusts us with the responsibility of making a compassionate case for others. God also asks us to surround ourselves with people we can trust for their honesty. When we do as God asks, we may find that even God chooses to lay down the burden of judgment as well.

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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