January 2019

In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7) Jesus lets us know that we would be wise to refrain from judging others.   Few, if any of us, take his advice.  From personal experience I know I have an innate tendency to evaluate myself and others in terms of what I or they deserve.  I compare what I have done to what others have done or not done.  I make judgments based on that comparison and come to conclusions about what rewards certain behaviors merit and what punishments other behaviors deserve. 

When you get right down to it a good bit of human history seems to revolve around how we have dealt with this question of who deserves what and what standards of justice we will apply to answer that question.   We write laws that grow out of these standards and we trust these laws to restrain behaviors that grow out of selfish disregard of those standards.  Our laws are designed to protect those who follow the standards and punish those who don’t.  We hope that the law will insure that everyone gets what he/she deserves.

So, what is Jesus getting at when he tells us not to judge?  Obviously that basic commandment must be clothed in some nuances that help us to know when it is OK and not OK to judge.  My best guess at what he is getting at is wrapped up in a couple of things he states just a few sentences after the command to not judge.  He gives us examples of the judging we should and shouldn’t do.

Immediately after telling us not to judge he asks a question: “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye and do not notice the log in your own eye?”  Then he invites us to be discerning to the point of not giving our time and energy to those whom we deem unable to receive and appreciate it: “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine.” 

In other words, if you’re going to judge, start with someone a little closer in who has more pressing issues than that speck you see in your neighbor’s eye.  Start with yourself.  Start by dealing with the log in your own eye.  Because by the time you get that log taken care of you probably won’t have much energy to deal with your neighbor’s speck.  

Also don’t use judgement as if you can wield it as a tool to reform or change the one you are judging.  Redemption and transformation are things that are above your pay grade.  So don’t waste your energy and your attention on trying to give something good to someone who doesn’t want it.  Dogs don’t know what to do with a holy thing.  They might give it a sniff but it won’t hold their interest.  And throwing pearls to swine as if they recognize their value. . . ?   Well, that’s just a silly thing to do. 

So Jesus is not saying don’t judge at all.  Clearly, he invites us to be discerning and to make judgments about the rightness and wrongness of our own and other people’s behavior.  But what he prohibits is something that is not in our wheelhouse in the first place.  What he prohibits is acting as if we are God.  St. Paul says it well in Romans 12 when he equates genuine love for one another with, among other things, the choice to “leave room for the wrath of God. “ (Rom . 12:19)  In other words, let God do what only God can do.  Your wrath is really not that powerful, and your love doesn’t have the capacity to transform the life of the one whose behavior offends you.  So leave room for God.  Entrust others to God.  In the long run we’ll be much happier if we do.  To release our grip on what we cannot change and make space for God to achieve what we cannot affect, is a choice that simply makes good sense. 

[Dave Rohrer, 1/1/2019]