Psychologists have long recognized the sort of behaviour that St. Paul describes in the first reading. They call it ‘projection’, and it’s a defence mechanism we use to try and gloss over our own faults. Instead of looking at—and dealing with—our faults, we tend to project them onto other people. For example, when we spend a lot of time considering someone greedy, lazy, or impatient, it may be that we carry those same faults and are trying to deflect attention from them. What we most dislike about someone else is often a sign of what we dislike about ourselves.
And this is where St. Paul and modern psychology differ. St. Paul was more interested in urging people to look upward to God rather than just inward to their minds. He wanted to teach them that no one is good enough to judge another because everyone is guilty. And St. Paul could speak from experience. He had once thought himself righteous for observing the Law, but he learned that “all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).
So what can we learn from St. Paul’s reality therapy? That we are all hopeless sinners destined for perdition? Not at all. St. Paul’s whole rationale for exposing our condition is to move us to Christ. The bad news is that we are all sinful. But the really good news is that we don’t have to fix the problem ourselves. We have a Saviour who is powerful enough to lead us out of the mire of sin and into a new life of grace.
And so, the next time you are tempted to judge someone, see what Our Lord is telling you about yourself. Is he pointing out some area of darkness in your heart? If he is, then you can turn to the light and be embraced by his mercy. That mercy is strong enough not only to heal you, but to soften your heart towards everyone else as well. So let us always turn to him, and let those judgmental thoughts fade away.