Judge Not

Lucas Cranach_sr

Behind these two words “judge not” (Matthew 7:1) stand the champions of moral relativism. Before the wall the relativists erect with these two words, Christians drop their weapons, seemingly defeated by a rampart they thought was meant for their own defense. The Gospels are the ultimate love story and from their midst not only do we find we are not to judge, but we are also to throw no stones and to turn the other cheek. In a world that increasingly dismisses Christian faith as outmoded, judgmental and even hateful we seem defenseless. We find ourselves asking for the gloried Excalibur and receive in its place a Nerf sword of plastic and foam.

But are we really left flailing the air with a toy sword? Many Christians have seemingly accepted this. They have accepted that loving your neighbor and not judging him leave the Christian with no other option than to pat him on the back and to assure him that he will be fine, that we can accept him just as he is. To do otherwise is to judge and only God can do that. This works. It is comfortable for both parties, calling neither to any particular effort, and it fits well within our modern concept of love as something that makes everyone feel good.

Yet the ultimate love story ends with the ignominious death of the ultimate lover, the one who turned the other cheek, the one who threw no stones and the one who could have judged but never did. It ends not with the whimper of the weak and the wielding of an ineffectual weapon but with the wind of the Holy Spirit turning history on its head and coloring the world with a new lightness and a new hope. This should indicate that if our love is too comfortable, maybe it isn’t love at all. If the love of Jesus led to his giving everything in the most discomfiting way imaginable, perhaps we need to reconsider our own love when it requires nothing of us. Perhaps the decision to not judge is no more abjectly passive than was Christ’s decision to accept the cross. Perhaps the call to not judge is actually a call to courageous action.

To begin to understand this we must see ourselves not as nags sent to wheedle, correct and cajole but as people with something to give, as Christ came to give. But we must first understand the gift and be sure it is in our hands to pass on. The word “gospel” means good news. The good news is that the gift we need to give is freely offered to us. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus himself describes the gift: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45) In other words, the gift is worth more than anything else we could possibly own. It is worth having at all costs and it is offered to all. If we fully understand the gift we will want it and, like the merchant, will give up all to have it. We will clean out our attics, our closets and our cellar because it is a gift so large it will fill our house completely.

Yet if we see the Gospels as a promise and a light in our own lives but as a club to wield over the lives of others, then we have underestimated and misunderstood the good news. We have not fully cleaned our house. We can only understand the gift when we understand that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and that love is a gift of self freely given as God gave himself in the life of Jesus. It is only in the giving that it truly becomes love. To understand the good news of the gospels is to see that we cannot hold it as our own. By its very nature this good news must be passed on. Its very nature compels us to invite all to its message, much as a bride and bridegroom, anxious to share their love for each other, will not be content until everyone has been invited to their wedding. It was this spirit with which the Apostles went forth after Pentecost, not to cram goodness down everyone’s throat, but to pass on the love that had become integral to their own lives. They preached not to look down on sinners but to fill the holes that sin left in people’s lives. They went forth bearing gifts, and they gave completely, offering their very lives, because they could not hold the light in their hand, call it their own, and still possess it.

The call of the Gospels is to love and to love completely. Jesus showed us that this love was to give and give completely, that love is in the gift offered not the threat delivered. The Kingdom of heaven is in that love. It is a Kingdom to be lived now and more completely beyond this life where all love is lived completely. To understand this love is to understand that sin is the absence of love. It is a void in our lives crying to be filled. To love is not to see evil and condemn it but to see ourselves and our neighbors as lepers, blind men and cripples in need of a cure. It is to understand that a God of love can no more love our disability than a mother could love the cancer her child carries. It is with this love that we must see both ourselves and our neighbors.

When we see this we will see that love allows no moral high ground. To love is not to see sin in others as an opportunity for self-righteous acclamation, but as a time for sadness, not because the sin deserves condemnation but because it blinds the sinner to the greater glories within his reach. It is the sadness of watching the sun rise to a new day with a friend who is blind. It is a sadness that cries, “Let me be you, and let you be me, so you can see what I can see.” It is a sadness that knows that such an offer is incomprehensible because sin has pre-empted the very idea of a rising sun. It is a sadness knowing a friend has accepted darkness for light, blindness for sight. It is a sadness that Jesus must have felt for Judas when he left the last supper to go about his business.

To love is not to condemn but to hope and to pray for a ray of light to penetrate the darkness. To love is to never condemn but to see the sinner as one who has condemned himself. To love is to help the sinner find his way out of his own condemnation, out of his own self imposed blindness. To love is to see that you cannot judge and must not judge because in doing so you would accept the condemnation sin imposes. Love can no more accept this than a loving mother can smother her child. But to understand this, is to see that love cannot accept the unlove, the sin that has blinded the beloved. To love and not judge are simply complements. To love and ignore sin are diametric opposites, because to ignore sin is to judge, to condemn and to give up hope on either yourself or your neighbor. This love does not allow.

To love is to see that we must perfect ourselves. Jesus does not conclude his adjuration to not judge with the suggestion that we walk away but with the command to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) We are not told to walk away but to put our own house in order and then return to help our brother. To help others see we must first remove our own blindness. To not do so renders us inadequate to share a vision we cannot fully see or comprehend. It renders us incapable of loving completely. To not perfect ourselves is to offer our neighbor a candle when he needs the sun. It is only when we have freed ourselves from sin that we can see the slavery in which it held us. Only then will we see that the gift we offer is not a cudgel to beat out righteousness but a shovel to dig our neighbor out of the binding mire and a light to pierce the blinding gloom. We return to our neighbor as God’s abolitionists, not to castigate the slave and blame him for his slavery, but to free him.

“Judge not” is not a call to passivity. To “judge not” is to fully embrace our plea in the Fatima prayer in the rosary when we ask God to “lead all souls to heaven.” To “judge not” is a call to action, but an action that must start in our own lives. We must begin with an examination of our own faith. When we see our faith as something good for us but of no use to our neighbor, we have judged our neighbor as unworthy of what we have. We cannot love and not give the thing we consider most precious. If we have nothing precious to give, or if we consider the good news of the Gospels one of many competing and worthy tales spanning the different cultures of the world, then we actually believe in nothing more than a fairy tale that makes us feel good. We must see the “precious” in our faith. We must actively seek and maintain the light that is too precious to keep to ourselves.

When we truly find that light the need to shine it everywhere will be compelling. Anything less than its full exposure means we have passed judgment. When we tepidly proclaim the word of the Lord so as not to give offense, we judge our listeners to be beyond its benefit. When we mute the doctrinal teaching of the Church so as not to challenge, we judge people deserving of the sin that enslaves them. When we greet all with open arms after first hiding the silver freely given to us, we judge ourselves bankrupt with nothing to give. When we treat sin as anything less than a cancer on mankind, we have judged mankind unworthy of love. When we hunger for the bread of life and deny that hunger in others, we judge them as less than human, as less than made in the image of God.

To “judge not” offers a love that never gives up on your neighbor or yourself, because to give up would be to judge life as hopeless.  “Judge not” seldom travels in company with good feelings, because truth lived or spoken will offend just as Christ, who did not judge, offended and was crucified.  Yet, when we “judge not” we take no offense when we are mocked and maligned, because the very sickness of sin is to reject love, and it is the sickness we seek to cure.  Love offers itself even when it finds itself judged, slapped and stoned, because love never judges sin as an affront but as an occasion for even greater love.

Only when we see our neighbor in the light of God’s love, as someone equally loved, will we see that “judge not” is not submission to moral relativism, nor is it a position of weakness, but an active call to perfection, to sharing the good news of the Gospels with all and to overcoming the desolation of sin with the assertion of a divine and unwavering love.  When we fully embrace the love of “judge not” we will find ourselves wielding a sword far mightier than Excalibur.

Pete Jermann

By

Pete Jermann is a self-employed craftsman and homeschooling father.

  • Justin

    Excellent piece, Mr. Jermann.

    “…because truth lived or spoken will offend just as Christ, who did not judge, offended and was crucified.” This line, in particular, stopped me in my tracks: “…because truth lived or spoken will offend just as Christ, who did not judge, offended and was crucified.”

    Thank you for these new insights.

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  • poetcomic1

    Study a dozen paintings and more of the Last Judgment from the great Ages of Faith; not once is there the least look of anger or even sternness on the face of Christ, the central figure. Somehow in this is the secret of Christian judgment. To articulate truths is our witness and what we are called for, however painful to us and others. To ‘stand in judgment’ is by its nature untrue.

  • Bobalouie

    My heartfelt thanks for helping to clear the murk surrounding “judgement”. I am sharing this with everyone!

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  • ruthsdaughter

    It is easy to love a dear one to death; and so much harder to love him to Life.

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  • Steve Martin

    Judging i not our business. But it is the Lord’s and He will do it.

    But I have always found great comfort in the fact that the one who died for me, is the same One who will be judging me.

    Thanks, so much.

    theoldadam.com/

  • kurtus

    This article makes many good point but…

    I’m confused. You are home schooling. How do you teach the moral lessons of
    the church to your child without judging the behavior of those who live
    outside of those morals. How do you instruct them of their error without
    first “judging” it to be error? Didn’t Jesus tell the prostitute to “go
    and sin no more”?

    How do you engage the world in
    the political realm without “judging” ideas to be moral or immoral? Or
    do we become mere statues in the public forum? Mute, but resolute in our
    beliefs.

    I agree that we cannot judge our neighbors
    lives because God wrote the book and that is for Him to do. But, if we
    see a friend committing a sin how can we help him before judging the action first? How would you instruct your child?

    • Pete Jermann

      It is the genius of evil to cloak itself in good, to be the wolf in sheep’s clothing. We see this today in the use of words to justify abortion, words like “pro-choice” when the child has no choice, “reproductive health” when the intent is to stifle natural reproduction, a “medical decision between a woman and her doctor” when the decision usually has nothing to do with health but with a lifestyle choice, and “caring” about the mother when the intent is to destroy the child. These are all good words or phrases that essentially cover lies. I believe the same has happened with the word “judge.” We don’t really judge right from wrong but we are called to properly form our consciences to discern right from wrong, which is what I hope to teach my daughter to do.

      Accepting the use of the word “judge” as the proper term for this discernment places ourselves in the middle of the moral relativist camp with no real defense. They want to redefine the term “judge” as the ability to tell right from wrong. In doing so they can thump our own bible to incriminate us as unloving bigots. This is a wonderful ploy if we let them get away with it. Not only do they run free but they have undermined our very faith by encouraging us to accept impotence rather than see the call to personal holiness that is the only response to not only our own sins but those of our neighbor.

      Seeing sin in others, as well as ourselves, is not judgment, but merely prudent observation. What we choose to do with that observation is judgment. If we view that person as condemned we have judged him. If we write him off we have judged him. But, if my essay leads anybody to believe that on seeing sin in others we rush in to correct them, then I have explained my concepts poorly and apologize. We are all called to help our neighbors in different ways, some preach, some counsel, and many pray, but for all of us the call is to live our own faith more intensely, to bear witness more fully. Sin always represents something missing in a person’s life. Because we ourselves are sinners we often can’t see that missing thing. Only as we perfect ourselves will we begin to see it. Even when we see it, we still may not possess the gift we can give to fill the hole we see in life of another. We may never have that gift to give but we can always pray that a God who has many more hands than ours will somehow fill the hole in the life of those people we love. But to walk away from a sinner and to do nothing, to see no challenge in our own life, that would be to judge.

      After the last man had dropped his stone and walked away Jesus told the adulteress that her sins were forgiven and to sin no more. He did not judge her. He neither raised her to heaven nor condemned her to hell. In forgiving her, He gave her another chance and pointed the way with His own goodness. But neither did he offer any pretense that there was no right or wrong, that one man’s moral compass can differ from another man’s, or that she was okay and He was okay. He acknowledged her sin in His very forgiveness of it and in His prescription that she sin no more. When the moral relativists corrupt the word “judge” to take away our discernment to see sin, they also take away our ability to forgive and to love as Jesus did.

      • kurtus

        Thank you for the thoughtful response. It is obvious how much you care for others that you would take the time to write so well. Here is another thought which may simplify the discussion.

        “Jesus told the adulteress that her sins were forgiven and to sin no more. He did not judge her.”

        I’m sorry but, I believe He did. He also “judged, discerned and prudently observed” the sins of everyone holding stones.

        Perhaps there is a problem with the translation of the word “judge” here. Perhaps the word “condemn” should have been used. Because then the phrase could read “Condemn not, lest ye be condemned.” Then it properly implies the authority and power that only God has, not us.

        I was drawn to your article because as you point out this phrase, “Judge not, lest ye be judged” has been misused to silence Christians at public gatherings everywhere in the recent decades. My effort here is not to condemn anyone but to seek practical ways to engage family and friends in a healthy discussion of behaviors which either cause us to be closer to God or further away.

        Like you I have children who, when they were young, received my instruction without question. Of course, as expected, that changes when they become teenagers and the world presents them with other ideas. I feel that they need to be able to “judge” ideas and actions as either good or bad in order to live a life which is pleasing to Our Lord. I believe, as you do, that it is their responsibility to engage the world with Christ’s teaching as St. Paul did. In that way, we show our love and bring our friends, family and others to the Lord. I certainly don’t want to be a scold but neither do I want to shrink from a discussion of right and wrong. Jesus instructed the apostles to share the good news. Now it’s our turn.

        My hope is that we can take back that phrase and properly respond when someone misuses it.

        • The Truth

          You’ve hit the nail on the head, condemn not. That’s the way it should read. The fact of the matter is we “judge” everything and everyone everyday. But we don’t judge the person, we judge their actions, how they appear to us. Without judgement how can we perceive danger? How can we discern honorable actions from evil ones? No one is wthout sin, Gods knows I’m no where close to sinless. I judge my self, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. Does that mean we shouldn’t call sin, sin? Condemnation is not the same as judgement. I’m not condemning you to hell for calling homosexual ACTS sinful, but if you don’t acknowledge them as sinful and promote your behavior as acceptable to God, then I have to judge you and oppose you. I will not be the one to condemn you, that’s for God. But are we to expose ourselves and our children to the deception of sin as acceptable? We all too conveniently make sin more easily acceptable. Well, we’re only human. I really really do “love” her, what’s a piece of paper prove? I was “born” this way. We can and do “justify” sin in our own minds to make it more bearable. Once you stop struggling with sin you’re in trouble. People today, even some christians don’t believe in sin! Sin seperates us from God. If we are the temple of God, God will not dwell in us if we are turning away from Him. You are either walking toward God and forgiveness of sin, which you must acknowledge, or you walk away and refuse to acknowledge your sins.

          • Mariusz

            “You’ve hit the nail on the head, condemn not.” Or, as my preferred version goes, “sentence not”. It is not about evaluating but about passing a sentence. Unfortunately, this correct reading is obscured by the contemporary ambiguous meaning of the verb “judge”.

  • Tout

    Teach by showing. I do not preach in the streets, but I pray openly the rosary at a Mary-statue downtown, and hang sign “Whether glad, sad, or wary, stay a while, say a Hail Mary”. A few pedestrians came, prayed,left. Several came, touched the statue, left. I did not tell anyone to organize a public procession; I simply walked around 4 streets,praying, rosary in hand. The 7th time(2005) a mother and son joined me. In 2007 we were 11 persons. In 2008, a lady took over(I was 88),got 50 people in procession, praying, singing, carrying Mary-statue through the streets to a church for Mary-crowning. I always make sign of cross before meal, also in restaurant. I wear a wooden 3 cm cross on my sweater, visible to all. If anyone wants to talk to me, they can. In Turnhout(Belgium) 2004, prayed at Sacred Heart statue on central market. Statue in very bad shape, held together by 5 metal bands. Back in Canada, wrote to 100+people and the Mayor there, to repair the statue. It was fully repaired in 2006. I always receive H.Host on tongue. God wants to come in us, not in our hand. Please, receive H.Host on tongue. Every church to have a cross or statue outside. Or else a cross against church-wall outside, 2 m above ground. Every parishioner to pray there at least once a year. If 3 persons go together, go 3 times. Teenagers, dare to pray there, 2 or 3 together. No need for arguments, let others talk, you pray. Where are the pensioners; they have time. Even if only 1 Our Father or Hail Mary. Evangelize by DOING. After what Jesus did for you !

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  • djpala

    Sorry Pete, the whole country is going down the drain because the laity have sat silent for over 5 decades. Pointing out corruption is not judging it is actually charitable in that those pointed out can then correct matters & repent. The massive & ongoing homosexual problem inside the church uses your ‘love’ theory to cover their tracks & it will continue until those permitting it are replaced or more than likely, left in positions of authority until they die.
    The annual CCHD collection is a good example. The USCCB lets heretics distribute millions every year, telling the faithful in the pews it is for the poor when in fact most of the funds go to numerous anti-Catholic, left-wing & communist organizations, who support intrinsic evils that our Church abhors. For the past 5 years the USCCB claims it has corrected this fraud when in fact it has gotten worse. The social-justice, seamless garment heretics use your logic to maintain their stranglehold inside the USCCB & numerous Diocese, secure in the fact that no ‘lovers’ can point out their cancerous corruption without being unchristian, uncharitable, unkind & not ‘nice’.

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