August 25, 2019 A Religious and Political Commentary

Do Not Judge

On the whole, I find life and people funny. If you’re a regular reader of my missives, you’ll know that irony and satire are often my favorite forms of humor.  And you really don’t have to look too hard to find it. Here are a few of my recent favorites…

Let’s start with a riddle from the Old Dominion: The top three elected politicians are in hot water (2 accused of racism, 1 of sexual assault). How many lose their jobs or resign? Answer: None – when the fourth in line for the governorship is of a different party.

The latest outcry against Karen Pence and private Christian schools as inferior to public education strikes me as humorous, too (check out #ExposeChristianSchools).

CNN’s unquestioning acceptance of Nathan Phillips’ decision to bang the drum in the Covington Kid’s face so as to “calm the waters” was also funny.

I enjoyed USA Today’s report that “more than 1,000” attended this year’s “March for Life” in Washington, D.C. Yes, 100,000 is more than 1,000.

There was the horrible incident in which an Arizona woman in a vegetative state gave birth to a child. I found the AP’s report odd: “Phoenix police said they have not ruled out anyone and are still gathering DNA from all the facility’s male employees.” Isn’t gender fluid now? Why only male DNA?

In my recent column about the value of pre-born children, I was lambasted by enlightened, modern thinkers who, in the words of Rep. Chris Smith, “cling to outdated indefensible arguments cloaked in euphemism…like some kind of modern-day Flat Earth Society.”

But my favorite, and most often received irony-laden criticism usually involves a quotation from the Bible from someone who doesn’t believe it.  I’m regularly given the friendly reminder of Jesus’ words: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” That’s from Matthew 7:1 in Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount.

Is this, as my pen pal suggests, a full-on-Jesus-ban of judgment? Was Jesus promoting a post-modern, relativistic society whose motto might be “Live and let live” or “To each his own?” Is Jesus telling us that no one has the right to comment or have opinions on the behavior of others – you know, glass houses and all?

When you pull the statement out of its context, that’s sure what it sounds like. But that wasn’t Jesus’ meaning. First, Jesus is talking to his followers and those listening who were considering following him. In the sermon, he’s not talking about the “world,” but the Kingdom of God. In other words, this “rule” is for Christians.

Secondly, that verb “to judge” has a wide range of connotations. On one end of the spectrum is “to distinguish;” on the other is “to condemn/damn.” Am I now forbidden to judge my favorite restaurant by its salsa? Must I convince myself that all salsa is the same? Fortunately, no.

Jesus’ followers are encouraged to be distinguishing. How else can we help pull the speck out of our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:5)? How else can we distinguish between worthwhile and futile conversations (Matt. 7:6)? How else can we “watch out for false prophets” and “recognize them by their fruit (Matt. 7:15-16)?”

So Jesus’ disciples are to judge, but only in the sense of distinguishing between people and ideas. As fallible and non-omniscient creatures, our judgment is only as deep as our observations. We can see and make judgments on the product of others’ lifestyles and worldviews. One famous preacher called us “fruit inspectors.”

Further proof that this isn’t a blanket statement against all forms of judgment is Jesus’ recognition of the rights of a duly appointed jurist “to judge” cases before him (Matt. 5:25). The Apostle Paul reminds us they are doing God’s work (Rom. 13:1-6).

But before Jesus’ followers put on a robe and grab a gavel to sit in judgment on the world around us, Jesus is clearly forbidding certain judgment. We’re commanded not to judge harshly (Matt. 7:2) or hypocritically (Matt. 7:5 – remove the log from your own eye before dealing with the speck in your neighbor’s). We are NOT to judge people in the sense of condemnation. That final judgment is God’s bailiwick (Matt. 7:21-23). Only He can judge in perfect righteousness without error.

Why are Jesus’ followers called to discerning judgment? Jesus tells us in this same passage: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it (Matt. 7:13-14).” Christians are called to “judge ourselves (1 Cor. 11:28)” in order to make sure we’re on the narrow road. We’re to judge the fads and philosophies of the day that line the broad road. And we must invite as many as possible to enter the narrow gate with us.

So if we’re called to judge (in the sense of discerning), then how should we do it? Here’s Jesus’ rule of thumb: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matt. 7:2).” Later, James would explain: “…judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:12-13)!”

So be discerning…but remember the mercy God’s shown you – the mercy you need daily – and extend that kindness to others. Mercy triumphs over judgment!

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