The difficulty some Christians have with accepting what Jesus says in Matthew 7:1-5 might be thought remarkable, not least since Paul reinforces it in Romans 2:1-4 – if you wanted further evidence of the effects of original sin, you can find it there. We have, as Paul reminds us, all fallen short of the glory of God, we have all sinned. This means we are, in no position to judge others – God alone has full knowledge of the hearts and minds, and that is why He alone judges. If we suppose we know what God’s judgement is on those who do the things he forbids then we are in error, because God judges according to the truth, which he alone knows, and we are, as Jesus reminded us, judged too – so in passing judgment on others, we bring it on ourselves. God’s kindness, His love for us, the saving blood of Christ, these are His ways of leading us to repentance – why not assume that they will work with others as they do for us? Our job is to spread the love of God, not to presume to know His judgment – again, when, except in the sin of Adam, did we presume knowledge of good and evil in the way God alone has it? But of all our sins, that is the one which attaches itself most firmly to Christians.

So, if we look at Pope Francis, who speaks often of love and mercy, what do we find? We find him heavily criticised by many conservative Catholics. Who does he criticise? Those Christians who put the law ahead of love, those who know the letter and not the Spirit – precisely those who Jesus criticised. Perhaps those who are so critical of him dislike the mirror he holds up to them? It is what is in the mirror, not the man holding it up, that they should examine critically? Judgments usually serve only the person who makes them – seldom, if ever, do they help those who are being judged. What makes me love God is He loves me. I do not love Him because I fear being sent to Hell. I trust God. He alone knows why I am as I am, and it is His love which transforms me into a better image of His child. I trust the same is true for all who come to know Him.

What was the ‘right’ reaction to meeting a Samaritan woman according to the religious code of Jesus’ time? First, don’t, or if you can’t avoid meeting one, don’t talk with them – they were, as Samaritans, unclean, and in any case, as with Islam, conversing with women outside one’s own family was frowned on. As it happened, this woman had something of a ‘past’, married five times and now living with another man. Yet the Lord spoke with her and told her of the ‘living water’ that she could partake of. He, who alone could have judged her, did not. He did not say to her she must repent of her past behaviour, or that she must become a reformed character, or that she could not receive the living water because of her irregular marital situation – He, who alone was qualified to pass judgment, just offered her love and eternal life. So she came to believe in Him. We are not told anything more about her, but we do know that some of the earliest Christian communities were among the Samaritans. I wonder what would have happened to her had she been unfortunate enough to have met a Jewish religious leader who knew all about how he should treat such a sinner? Whatever her scandalous past, she became a new life in Christ; what mattered to Him was not her past, but her future – and so it is with us.

We, who were far off and in sin, have been brought near and redeemed. His love did this to us and for us. Our one command from Him is we should go and do likewise.