Jesus, friend and judge

Some twenty years ago, I came across a picture of Jesus, the original of which is an icon in St Catherine’s Monastery on Mt Sinai. It was a good print, so I cut a piece of wood for it and pasted it onto the wood and gently lacquered it and it has accompanied me ever since. The icon has a slightly odd look to it, but I never gave this much thought until one day I read that its title is: “Jesus, friend and judge”. I, then, realised that the two sides of the icon are slightly different: one side is “friend” and Jesus has a more informal look, with an open necked garment, shorter hair and his hand is raised in blessing. The other side is that of “judge” and here Jesus has a more formal look, his collar is higher, his hair is longer and his hand holds the book of the Scriptures. This is the icon of my friend, my companion on the way and he is with me always no matter where I go or what I do – but this does not mean that it does not matter what I do, it does. His being my friend is in itself a judgement, for in that friendship there is a call, an invitation to deepen the friendship and trust that there is between us – but this is a judgement, not a condemnation.

There is a story in the Gospel, Lk. 7:35f, where Jesus dines in the house of Simon the Pharisee. While there, a woman – “with a bad reputation”, as the text says – comes in and in tears kneels by Jesus’ feet, washes them with her tears, wipes them with her hair and then anoints them with costly ointment. Simon thinks to himself “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman this is, who is touching him”. In other words, Simon considered that her wrong actions nullified everything else she did or could be. This is not judgement – this is condemnation.

Jesus, on the other hand, obviously knew who the woman was, but also saw that when she knelt at his feet and wept, those tears showed that there was much more to her than the wrong things she had done. That is judgement – not condemnation – and there is also forgiveness, for forgiveness is seeing that a person is more than what they have done.

On Good Friday, during the veneration of the cross, I sat and watched people coming up to kiss the cross. The children came with excitement, some came a little nervously and one or two came with tears on their cheeks. It is the one day, apart from Ash Wednesday, when everyone can come – Catholics and non-Catholics (and there were even one or two non-Christians); young and old, saints and sinners and the vast bulk of us, who are somewhere in between. Everyone seems to know that those arms outstretched on the cross are also outstretched in welcome and those arms will refuse no one who comes to honour the one who died for us. All who come seem to know that his death is a judgment on us all – but a condemnation of no one.

In our dealings with others, we sometimes get hurt by what they say or do and there is a great temptation to fix them with “the hateful stare”, as Sarte called it, that act of condemnation, which reduces them to the act they committed – and in that stare there is no forgiveness. But, if I want to be one with the Lord whose feet I kissed last Friday, then I must open myself and allow his forgiving love flow through me and my hurts and on to the one who hurt me – for to be one with him in friendship calls to me to be one with him in his forgiveness. It is to remind me of this, that I have chosen the icon of “Jesus, friend and judge” as the picture on the card I am having printed to mark the ruby anniversary of my ordination.


I was out to the villages to celebrate the Holy Week ceremonies. I used to go to these kampongs many years ago, so it was great to meet a lot of old friends again, but I had forgotten how hot these kampong churches can be – especially at 3pm in the afternoon, the hour we begin the Good Friday service. I dissolved in a puddle of sweat and even at the evening services I felt as though I had been in a downpour. My laundry basket was full by the time the Easter Triduum was finished.

On Easter Sunday morning I was invited to say Mass in a kampong church, one which again I have not visited for 25 years. As I set off there was a tremendous downpour of rain which lasted the 20 miles I had to travel to the kampong. I thought I still remembered the way – I went through what had been a Chinese “protected village”, built during the days of the communist threat – and I knew that I had to turn left when I got to the other side, but I took the wrong road and got lost. I could not stop to ask the way because the rain was so heavy, so after trying this way and that for over half an hour, I stopped the car and said, “Lord,  if you want me to say Mass at that church you will have to do something about it, because I don’t know where I am!” I, then, went back to the beginning and saw that a new road had been built before the one I should have taken, and I had followed this. After that I easily found my way to the church, where the people were very glad to see me – just having finished about the 39th mystery of the rosary to pass the time while waiting for me!

The students have exams this week and then they will leave for their holidays. I shall be going to Bali on Friday, to visit my friends both in the prison and outside it. On the first weekend there, we shall have Mass at my house and a little party afterwards. I, then, go to Ambon  – to plane rides away in another part of Indonesia, to visit a Mill Hill priest there – I am accompanying one of our General Council from England. I shall then have a few more days in Bali before returning here to Kuching in the middle of May.

May I wish a very Happy Easter season to you all. May you be filled with the presence of the Risen Lord and in him find the confidence to face the challenges which lie ahead of us all.

God bless,


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