Ethics of Jesus: Judgment

25 06 2009

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly the speck out of your brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

Yes, we’ve all heard this read and read it ourselves (well, I’d wager a vast majority of us). What seems so confounding about it is how straightforward it is: “…with the same measure you use it will be measured to you.” What does that mean? It means exactly what it says, we are held accountable to the ways in which we judge other people and with the severity with which we judge them. Jesus means to tell us that when we judge an other person, we too shall be judged by God on the Final Day. God’s judgment, as Christ reminds us on several occasions, will be based on the ways we treat other people. Need we be reminded of the teaching He offers in Matthew 25?

This isn’t a post for me to, well, judge other people (how deliciously ironic that’d be though eh?) But rather as a reminder (at the very least, for myself) that the ethics of the Christian calling demands kindness and gentleness.

St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian Orthodox priest-monk from the late 18th century, offers these words on non-judgment and forgiveness,

“It is not right to judge anyone, even if you have seen someone sinning and wallowing in the violations of God’s laws with your own eyes, as is said in the word of God: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Mt. 7:1). “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant? to his own master he standeth or falleth. Yea, he shall be holden up: for God is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4). It is much better always to bring to memory the words of the apostle: “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Cor. 10:12).

One must not harbor anger or hatred towards a person that is hostile toward us. On the contrary, one must love him and do as much good as possible towards him, following the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you” (Mt. 5:44). If then we will try to fulfill all this to the extent of our power, we can hope that God’s light will begin to shine in our hearts, lighting our path to the heavenly Jerusalem.

Why do we judge our neighbors? Because we are not trying to get to know ourselves. Someone busy trying to understand himself has no time to notice the shortcomings of others. Judge yourself — and you will stop judging others. Judge a poor deed, but do not judge the doer. It is necessary to consider yourself the most sinful of all, and to forgive your neighbor every poor deed. One must hate only the devil, who tempted him. It can happen that someone might appear to be doing something bad to us, but in reality, because of the doer’s good intentions, it is a good deed. Besides, the door of penitence is always open, and it is not known who will enter it sooner — you, “the judge,” or the one judged by you.” (emphasis mine)

This is highly reminiscent, not only of Christ’s teaching which he references, but of St. Paul’s statement when he calls himself the “chief of sinners”. Somewhat counter-intuitive in an age when self-love is so highly esteemed, but I think we need to understand that such statements are not intended to make us hate ourselves, but rather to recognize the wrong in ourselves before we ever conceive to recognize the wrong in another. To pluck the log out from our own eye. According to St. Seraphim, such things are part of the process of acquiring the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Peace, of which the priest-monk says,

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.”

We do more for those who do wrong and who wrong us through love and forgiveness than any harshness of conduct or words of judgment could ever hope to do. To quote Tony Campolo,

“Jesus came into the world not to condemn the world, but to save the world. When we come with condemnation, we are not coming with good news about Jesus but laying the bad news on people.”

Simple words, but definitely words that need to be said. I really don’t know where else to go with this, so I’ll just end this with another quote from St. Seraphim,

You cannot be too gentle, too kind.

Shun even to appear harsh in your treatment of each other.

Joy, radiant joy, streams from the face of him who gives and kindles joy in the heart of him who receives.

All condemnation is from the devil. Never condemn each other…

Instead of condemning others, strive to reach inner peace.

Keep silent, refrain from judgment. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of slander, insult, and outrage and will shield your glowing hearts against all evil.

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