Friday, September 26, 2014

Do Not Judge? (Matthew 7:1-5; James 4:11-12) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

Do you make judgments about things?  Of course.  So do I.    Peter Falk was an actor who spent his career playing a wide range of roles in comedy and drama.  Most notably, he played an eccentric, rumpled but always triumphant detective in the hit show "Columbo." In real life Falk had a glass eye, resulting from an operation to remove a cancerous tumor when he was 3.  In spite of his missing eye, he was a high school athlete.  He liked to tell the story about being upset when he was called out at third base during a high school baseball game.  Peter said: “I removed my eye and handed it to the umpire and said  "Here ump, you'll do better with this.”

Do we make judgments?  Sure. “I don't think he is a very good Christian.” “I think she is smarter than he is.” “I like him, but not her.” “I like this restaurant, but not that one.” “I think the Padres are a better team than the Dodgers.” “I think  SDSU is a better school than UCSD.” “I think she is a good person, I think he is a bad person.”

And then we encounter a teaching of Jesus: “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.”  A simple teaching right?  Well?  

What do you think Jesus means?  How are we to interpret Jesus words?  I don’t know about you, but I find this teaching challenging.  And so do many people.  This teaching has been interpreted in different ways. 

Some people see it as an absolute and all-encompassing principle, which applies to any and all circumstances about people.  They assert: “Don’t judge people's behavior, adults or children, don’t judge their ideas, don’t judge their character, don’t judge attitudes, don’t judge values, don’t judge anything.”  Don’t say someone is wrong or right or that someone is good or evil.  Why, because you are judging.  

Other people apply Jesus’ teaching selectively depending upon their personal bias.  Some say Jesus meant - let judging be in the hands of the legal system, the court system and not the individual.  And still others ignore it altogether because that they are stumped about what Jesus means. 

The truth of course is that despite Jesus' teaching, we make judgments about people everyday.  We make judgments about people's guilt or innocence.  Perhaps you have had jury duty.  I just received another summons for jury duty.  I have been calling each night after 5:00 pm to see if I have to report the next morning.  I have been through this many times before.  I have been called many times but have never served on a jury.  As soon as they learn I am a minister, they excuse me.   The judge asks:  “Well pastor, do you think you can serve on a jury when the Bible says do not judge.  I say yes I do,  I will weigh the evidence like everyone else.”  Then the judge confers with the two attorneys, and I hear the familiar words, “Thank you pastor, but your services will not be needed.  You are excused.” 

What does Jesus mean?  Based upon my study and reflection I offer an interpretation, which is shared by some others, which I also happen to believe is correct.    First, Jesus didn’t mean that we should never make moral judgments, that is, judgments about people's behavior.   I believe this is a gross misinterpretation of Jesus words.   Moral judgments are necessary.   Jesus isn't saying here that we should suspend moral discernment or not be morally discriminating.   Jesus did not promote moral indifference or moral neutrality or moral equivalency, where everything is permitted, everything is tolerated, everything is equal, everything goes, its all good.   Jesus clearly taught that there is righteous and good and moral and kind and virtuous behavior.  There is also destructive and unrighteous and immoral and evil behavior.

Did Jesus make judgments about people?   Jesus quoted the 10 commandments which deals with true worship and ethical behavior in regard to stealing, murder, coveting and adultery.  Jesus said: “Whenever you pray do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogue so others may see them.”   Jesus said: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.”  Jesus said: “A good tree bears good fruit and a bad tree bears bad fruit in speaking about those who claimed to follow him.”    Jesus called some of the religious leaders of his day, white washed tombs, because they strutted about seeking positions of privilege, but did not practice compassion and generosity toward the poor.  Following Jesus teaching in Matthew about not judging others, he said:  “Don’t give what is holy, meaning his teachings, to dogs and do not throw your pearls before swine; or they will trample them underfoot and turn and maul you.”  He was speaking here about being discerning in regard to whom you teach and share your faith with.  He also taught his disciples - “Go proclaim the good news.  Whatever town or village you enter find out who in it is worthy and stay there until you leave.  If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”  Jesus told the men who brought the woman caught in adultery before him: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone,” and he said to the adulterous woman, “Do they condemn you, neither do I.  Go and sin no more.”   Clearly, Jesus teaches that making moral judgments about people is right and necessary.

Second, Jesus did not mean that we shouldn't evaluate or appraise each other’s character or talents or gifts or abilities or qualifications.  Jesus chose certain people as his disciples, but not others.  The early church discerned who should be deacons and elders based upon their spiritual gifts, wisdom and the call of God.   We rightfully make judgments about business partners or marriage partners or doctors or lawyers or teachers or ministers or baby sitters.  

We should judge people about whether they can keep things confidential which we share with them. You learn that there are some people you can trust and others you can’t trust.   Jesus is not saying - refrain from making judgments about people’s character or gifts or abilities or qualifications.

Third, Jesus is not speaking out against constructive criticism, legitimate criticism, appropriate criticism, done in the spirit of humility and love with the aim of restoring and correcting and helping and guiding someone.

So then what does Jesus mean? We get a clue from his words about the speck in our neighbor's eye in contrast to the log in our own eyes.  You hypocrites Jesus says.   Jesus is condemning harsh, mean-spirited, biting, sharp-tongued criticism which continually finds fault.  He is condemning a censorious spirit that tears someone down.  Jesus is condemning the attitude of self-righteousness, arrogance and judgmentalism.  He is criticizing being hypercritical toward others where one is always faultfinding and nitpicking.  He is talking about misjudging and prejudging other people, based upon first impressions or appearance or some other criteria.  He is condemning making hasty judgments about another’s motives without any knowledge to base them on. Jesus is condemning self-righteous judging, arrogance, being condescending, putting others down in order to feel superior.  Jesus is speaking about hypocrisy, accusing others of saying or doing things that you and I do and say.   Jesus is condemning gossip which hurts and runs down other people, of speaking critically of others to bolster one's ego.  We get a further clue from the letter of James.  The letter of James says:  “Do not speak evil against one another,” that is to utter slander, to defame, to malign.   This is what Jesus condemns and says that we shall be judged by God for when we judge others in this way.

I don't know about you but Jesus' words get my attention.  It is so difficult to be impartial and not be judgmental toward others.  It's our nature.   What are prejudices after all?  It is prejudging and stereotyping others based upon: appearance, speech, race, gender, religion, nationality, education, occupation, income, or social status. 

Jesus is our model as we interact with others.  He was comfortable in the presence of rugged fishermen and wealthy tax collectors, with both rich young rulers and poor lepers, with Jews and Gentiles, learned rabbis and despised Samaritans, business-women and women of questionable character.   I believe we need to recognize this flaw in our character, confess our sin, ask God to change our hearts, and to forgive us.  And the good news is that God will answer our prayer. 

A recall a friend from Santa Monica who owned a clothing store and told me: “I have ladies come to my store who look like they did not have two nickels to rub together, yet they purchase thousands of dollars worth of clothing, get into their chauffeured limousine and drive off.  You would never have guessed that they were wealthy.”

Jesus paints a picture in this teaching.  About a person with excellent vision, 20/20 vision, who clearly sees the splinters or specks in other people's eyes, but is totally blind, completely oblivious to the log in his own eye.   Dr. Peter Marshall was fond of saying, “Any time you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you.”    Our guide as followers of Jesus comes from Matthew 7:12 where Jesus provides a basic moral principle: The Golden Rule, “In everything, do to others as you would have them to you.”

Jesus in these words espouses three basic biblical truths: First, every person is a unique child of God and is loved by God and has potential.  Second, God is the ultimate judge.  We must leave final judgment to God.  And third, there is a huge difference between using our God given minds and hearts and exercising moral judgment toward a positive end and the negative attitude of being self-righteous and hyper-judgmental  toward others.

Let us turn to God's grace as we seek to follow Christ's way - “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”  Amen!

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