Don’t Judge Me!

As I type this blog, I’m already upset by how you’re judging everything I’m saying. I can feel it. My every word is being criticized. I’m tempted to say things like, “Only God can judge me.” It doesn’t feel good.

How’d I know you were judging me, you ask? Well, so many people judge these days, so I just assumed. There’s also a chance that you’re a Christian, and Christians have a bit of a reputation for being judgmental (sorry if I just broke that news to you).

That might sound strange to you because Jesus said that we shouldn’t judge, right? In fact, the first two words in Matthew 7 are Jesus saying, “Stop judging.”

However, there are several passages in Scripture telling us to judge. You can find this in Luke 17:3, where St. Paul tells us, “If your brother sins, rebuke him” and again in Romans 15:14, “I myself am convinced about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are … able to admonish one another.” Rebuke and admonish are synonyms that basically mean to express sharp criticism or disapproval.

So… what in the world do we do? We aren’t supposed to judge. But we’re not supposed to just throw up our hands and say, “Anything goes!” either, right? There still is such a thing as right and wrong, isn’t there? How do we respond to Jesus’ call to “love one another” (John 13:34) and still fight against the moral relativism (you decide what’s right for you, and I’ll decide what’s right for me) that plagues our culture today?

This is a huge topic, and I won’t be able to reach the depths of every point that can be made. However, I don’t want to remain silent because we live in a time where so many people, groups of friends, faith communities, and homes are divided on major issues — and judgment tends to run rampant when that occurs. So, I want to offer three basic steps each of us can take.

The first thing we should do is acknowledge that we ourselves are not perfect or without sin. Jesus instructs the Pharisees in John 8 to do this and I think the commandment was intended for us, too.

Then, we need to understand judgment and our role here on Earth.

Finally, let’s admit that judging is no joking matter.

Acknowledging our own sinfulness.

This is a good practice. We do it towards the beginning of Mass in the Penitential Rite. A lot of people even do an Examination of Conscience before bed. You can do this by reflecting on the ways you loved well and failed to love that day, as well as how you can love better the next day. This is a really good way to stay humble by constantly facing the ways you fall short, while always remembering to turn it into a time to reflect on and be thankful for God’s mercy.

It was only in the next few verses after Jesus in Matthew 7 said, “Stop judging” that he said, “For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”

He doesn’t say to ignore the splinter in your brother’s eye. He simply says to focus on your own eyes first, that you’d be able to see clearly. This will help us to be merciful to others. We won’t come off as ‘high and mighty’ or ‘holier than thou’ if we are trying to be aware of our own shortcomings. Instead, we as Christians will exude a real desire and struggle for holiness, even in the midst of the messes we make. That humility will be a powerful witness.

Judgment and our role in it.

The most common type of judgment is when someone forms a negative opinion about someone on just a few words or a single action. Often times, facts aren’t checked and motives aren’t examined. This kind of judgment is damaging and is rooted in both jumping to conclusions and our own insecurities. If you’ve ever been the victim of something like this, you know it isn’t fun. We should stop doing this.

Still, sometimes a more grave type of judgment takes place. Judging someone in the sense of determining where they will spend eternity is simply not up to us. Now to say it is entirely up to God removes us (people) from the equation, and to say it is entirely up to us (people) removes God from the equation. Both are absolute statements but not absolute truths. As Christians, we shouldn’t make anyone else feel that we are determining where they ‘end up’. Instead, we should tell them that we all have a role in making that decision by how we live our lives, and if we choose to know, love, and serve God here on Earth. We should be introducing them, time and time again, to the God who created them, loves them, and wants to share with them the eternal joy of Heaven. Let’s remember that this is Good News.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be able to call a sin a sin. To believe that what someone is doing is wrong is not judging them. To believe that what someone is doing has the potential to lead them farther from Jesus and not closer to Him is not judging. After all, sin is serious and shouldn’t be taken lightly. God sent His only begotten son Jesus to die on a cross for us because of sin. So when our neighbor is in sin, we shouldn’t throw up our hands and say “Hey, whatever works for you is fine.” However, you must remember to separate the person from the action. We have a bad tendency to look past people’s identity as a child of God and straight to their identity as a sinner. Pope St. John Paul II was giving a homily at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto when he said, “We are not the sum of our weaknesses and failures, we are the sum of the Father’s love for us and our real capacity to become the image of His Son.” We have to remember that each person around us is a beloved child of God, and their sin is not their identity. In fact, sometimes we remove their humanity from the equation altogether and they just embody the sin itself. Do we see potential in the people around us, and do they know it?

What is our motive?

Are we aiming just to tell others about their issues and failures, or are we aiming to make disciples? If our aim is to make disciples, then understanding this next point is crucial.

We have a responsibility to call out our fellow Christians when they aren’t being Christians with how they live their lives. But the way we call out non-believers should be different. It doesn’t make sense to apply the same standards to people who don’t claim to be Christians.

For example: If the person in your life that you are tempted to judge and want to call out is a Christian, say someone in your youth group or bible study, hold them to that standard. They’ve been reading the same passages as you, hearing the same talks as you, and singing the same songs as you. They are publicly professing faith in Jesus and representing Him in that way, yet not living their lives in accordance with His teachings. What’s going on? Why are they preaching one thing and living another? In the spirit of right judgment, we certainly have the freedom to not just ignore sin. You still need to speak the truth in love, but your approach will be different than if the person were not a Christian.

If the person you’re feeling tempted to judge and want to call out is not a Christian, why would you think that telling them “Jesus wouldn’t like that” would matter to them at all? If someone saw you eating meat, and started screaming at you for committing such a disgusting and egregious act against the cow you’re eating, as well as your fellow vegetarian brothers and sisters, but you never claimed to be a vegetarian, how would you react? It most likely wouldn’t be effective. You’d still eat meat, and you’d think vegetarians are crazy.

So, let’s try this.

Introduce people to Jesus. We don’t need to be the world’s moral military. Help someone have an encounter with the living God. Let Jesus draw them into His loving gaze. Let Him call them to follow Him and let Him convict them to follow Him, even if it means parting ways with certain habits or sins. Be there to walk with them. Listen to them. Let’s stop being stumbling blocks on people’s path to the Lord. If someone has to go around you to see Jesus, you’re doing it wrong. Let them see Jesus in you.

Judging is no joking matter.

Now if you love someone and call them out in truth, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll take it well. If they don’t take it well, that’s okay. Do your best to be Christ-like. Sometimes people need to feel the effects of their sin in their community. They may get mad at you and turn away for a while. You never know, maybe it will allow them the time to vent, reflect, and realize that they need God or that they strayed away from the Lord. Be there to walk with them. God can absolutely work through that. Being afraid of bothering someone shouldn’t stop us from speaking the truth in love. Trust the process, but don’t sacrifice truth or love. If you sacrifice truth, you probably aren’t sharing love. If you sacrifice love, you probably aren’t sharing truth.

I believe we’re looking at this whole thing backwards. We shouldn’t be calling people out of their sin and sort of, kind of, sometimes trying to be loving about it. It should be because we love someone that we call them out of their sin. I would dare to say that if we don’t love someone, we have no business calling them out.