Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz writes this sonnet in praise and illustration of the Golden Rule, but wisely, for one in her position, bases her observations on the Biblical example of Pilate. That way, she could justify her poem to her religious hierarchy, if needed. It is entitled “La Sentencia del Justo”, the verdict of the just.
La Sentencia del Justo
Firma Pilatos la que juzga ajena
Sentencia, y es la suya. ¡Oh caso fuerte!
¿Quién creerá que firmando ajena muerte
el mismo juez en ella se condena?
La ambición de sí tanto le enajena
Que con el vil temor ciego no advierte
Que carga sobre sí la infausta suerte,
Quien al Justo sentencia a injusta pena.
Jueces del mundo, detened la mano,
Aún no firméis, mirad si son violencias
Las que os pueden mover de odio inhumano;
Examinad primero las conciencias,
Mirad no haga el Juez recto y soberano
Que en la ajena firméis vuestras sentencias
The first four lines of the sonnet tell the story of Pontius Pilate, who, in giving a verdict on someone else, does not realise that he is in fact passing sentence on himself (presumably the self-inflicted sentence is to be reviled by Christians until the end of history). The first two lines declare this story, the next two lines repeat it, but asking who would believe this. Thus the first four lines together strongly anchor the reader in the sense that Pilate was wrong to condemn someone else without considering the impact on himself.
The next four lines generalise the story of Pilate to any ambitious judge who gives an unjust verdict. That judge does not see that he will bring a bad end to himself.
The final six lines are an appeal to judges everywhere to take pause before they pass a sentence or give a verdict. Think if they are being motivated by hate. If the judges don’t examine their own consciences well, they might be in fact passing sentence on themselves.
I find this to be a poem of ageless relevance and an excellent example of the Golden Rule and what it means in practice.
The Poetry Dude