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June 14, 2018

Do Not Judge

 Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. Matthew 7:1

When I think of judgment, I remember a scene I witnessed several times growing up. The parents of one of my friends had matching easy chairs in their living room with a small table between them. They would smoke, drink, and comment, usually critically, on whatever they saw on television, in the neighborhood, or standing in front of them. My image was of a self-appointed king and queen meting out judgment on their lowly subjects and rarely granting anything smacking of mercy. As one who was sometimes the subject of their sharp judgment, the memory is not a pleasant one. Even as I write this, fifty years later, I realize I am judging them in return, albeit posthumously. Interestingly, this is exactly what Jesus tells us will happen when we cast judgement on others – that we, too, will be judged.

I believe most Christians are aware of Jesus’ instruction not to judge. What constitutes judgement, however, and whether casting judgement on another out of concern for his or her “salvation” creates a large divide among us. For example, if one truly believes that living outside of the Bible’s behavioral guidelines condemns one to an eternity in hell, would not the loving thing be to tell a friend or family member that they need to repent? Of all the issues that turn people away from the Christian faith, however, the sense that we are overly judgmental is one of the most common. When a person sets foot inside a church and is accosted by language about salvation and other accusations that make them feel less than welcome or worthy of God’s love, it is little wonder so many of our churches are struggling. Personally, I think Jesus tells us to tend to our own house, first.

There is a foundational reason why it is so difficult not to judge: our minds are designed to judge. We constantly categorize what we see, hear, feel, touch, and taste. This is good, that is bad; this is beautiful, that is ugly; this is worthy of my attention, that is not; this is safe, that is dangerous. These judgments are usually made much too quickly to know anything or anyone at more than the shallowest of levels. Yet, this is what our minds do. In that sense, Jesus is asking us to overcome our natural tendency to judge – both for ourselves and for others. More accurately, Jesus asks us to become more discriminating about when to act on our judgments.

One common and frequently overlooked form of judgment is gossip – saying things about a person in his or her absence that we would not say in their presence. Gossip is often malicious, but not always. I sometimes catch myself saying things about someone in a way I would not say to him or her face to face. Usually, I am not trying to hurt them, but rather to be funny. I attempt to be funny, however, at someone else’s expense.

Here is an even more important reason to be careful about casting judgment, however. That which we find most worthy of judgment against another is almost certainly a reflection of a similar trait or tendency within our self. If we are not consciously aware of that particular tendency, we likely have repressed our awareness of it, often out of shame. Bringing those types of issues to light and acknowledging them can be painful. The old saying that when I point a finger at you there are three pointing back at me is often truer than we care to admit.

When it comes to our own shortcomings, we desire mercy for ourselves more readily that we typically grant it to others. When we see something worthy of judgment in another, perhaps our first thoughts should be, “What within me is reacting so negatively to this behavior? Am I guilty of the same thing?” Once we have those answers, we may not be so quick to judge. No one is perfect, but we seldom improve or grow from the harsh judgments of others. Allowing our repressed memories and immature tendencies to rise to conscious awareness helps us to transform those hidden parts of ourselves into something good. Somehow, that transformation also seems magically to transform others, or at least our perception of others. Because the mercy of withholding judgement is something we desire for ourselves, Jesus suggests we grant the same to others.

 This is the 24th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

 Prefer to listen? Check out Life Notes Podcasts at www.ContemplatingGrace.com/podcasts

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 6: Judgment is Self-Incriminating

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye. Matthew 7:1-5

I remember being taught that whenever I point a finger at someone, three fingers point back at me. It was a lesson in judgment – as in, be careful when tempted to criticize others. Most of us are at least partially blind to our own shortcomings. The very traits we loath in others are frequently the traits we dislike in ourselves. Author William Wharton writes: “What we all tend to complain about most in other people are those things we don’t like about ourselves.”

I am ashamed to confess how judgmental I can be. I not only judge the words and actions of others, I judge their motives. There is no way for me to know the motivations of another. As individuals and as a society, we gossip ruthlessly, we bully, and we discriminate. Rendering harsh judgments has become such a common and accepted practice we hardly realize we are doing it. When we judge behind another’s back, we do it not so much to tear others down as to build ourselves up. How did we become so insecure as to desire to build our self-esteem by tearing others down?

The tendency to judge others is not new. Two thousand years ago, Jesus spoke harshly about casting judgment, telling us to attend to the “log” in our own eye before worrying about the “speck” in the eye of another. We will be judged by the same measure we use to judge others. He called us “hypocrites.” None of us is perfect or righteous enough to stand in judgment of another – especially when that criticism is unfair and unfounded.

This is why I grow so weary of political campaigns – candidates consistently try to build themselves up by pronouncing judgments of unworthiness upon their opponents. The fact that I am so bothered by this, unfortunately, is probably an indication that I tend to do the same thing. Ugh. Perhaps it is like a collective balloon being squeezed at one end, causing the other end to expand. Whenever I deny or repress undesirable parts of myself, those thoughts or actions enter my awareness through others.

One of the clearest commands of Jesus was to love each other. Mother Teresa (of Calcutta) said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” This may capture the core evil of judgment – that we cannot love and judge at the same time. Perhaps, instead of criticizing another, we should be looking within for something we can improve in ourselves. In the words of Fr. Richard Rohr, “The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”

Judgement is self-incriminating. How did I miss that?

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