This is a reflection offered for Lenten Midweek services at Holy Trinity on February 24, 2016. The texts considered were: Romans 14:7-13 & Matthew 7:1-5
Lord, I know I’m not supposed to judge other people. Your word is clear and consistent. You say, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” (Matthew 7:1) Paul urges, “Let us therefore no longer pass judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13) and “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself…” (Romans 2:1)
Sometimes I tell myself that you aren’t so clear about the matter. I can see words of judgment uttered by your very own prophets, from Amos to Zephaniah, upon all sorts of people for all sorts of things. You stand against injustice, oppression and the mistreatment of the poor, widow and alien in the land. These prophets condemn and judge what stands against you. Shouldn’t all your people be on the lookout for what seems to stand against your will? But then again, the prophets didn’t really speak for themselves, did they? Most of them resisted saying anything at all. They were called by you to speak your words of judgment – I am not. Actually, I, through my baptism, am called to a “ministry of reconciliation” according to Paul.
The truth is that, when I think about it at all (and I don’t normally, I must confess) not judging people is a most difficult command. I do it all the time…. With everything! Maybe it is because I need to make sound judgments about the “things” in my life. My car lease is coming to an end. I need to judge what cars seem good and what seem bad. I have to prepare for retirement, so I have to judge between one investment and another (and a little divine guidance would be appreciated here)! I have to assess what seems to be the right political and social position on a host of matters so I can vote and participate in life. It all comes so naturally. Maybe I just do the same with people. But people are not products. I know that, but I treat them like things anyway.
I also must admit… and this we need to keep between us, Lord… that I have discovered that; calling someone fat, helps me feel skinnier; judging someone to be less than me helps me make more of myself. Because I know, down deep that you know my faults and I’m just wearing a mask when I judge others. I guess that is what you meant by telling us to take the log out of our own eye before tending to the speck in somebody else’s. The truth is, the speck in my neighbors eye, when it comes to sin at least, is for my neighbor deal with, not me.
You know what else is useful about judging others Lord? I’m sure you know this. It keeps me from having to love them. Heck, it keeps me from having to even care about or pay attention to them. I like to fit people in boxes and build walls of protection to keep safe and to keep my life in control. Free me from interruptions and the intrusion of people! Perhaps the only thing harder than stopping the judgment of others is loving them – which, I know, you also command – but that is a confession for another day.
Loving others is risky and opens me up to pain and suffering. It sets me up to have my agenda, my needs, my wants, and my TV time interrupted by others. Judging others keeps me safe from all that. I know, Paul tells us that “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.”(Romans 14:7) He says it is to be all about you and you are all about love. We live for, with, and under you. But, I don’t know about anybody else… (Well, I think I really do know quite a bit about everybody else)… but I find passing judgment on others easier than sharing love with them.
Don’t think I don’t see what you do when I’m in full judgment mode; when I’m rating to others about others; when I’m completely absorbed by my addiction to judgment. The inability to love others and take you place as judge place turns my judgment back on me, Lord. You withdraw, for I have no room for your presence, your voice is drowned out by my own noise and ranting. You are available, but there is only room for one judge in my life, and if I’m filling that job description there is no room for you. Perhaps that’s what you mean when you say that when we judge others we will be judged. The walls I put up between me and others with every brick of judgment, with every stereotype, with every insult and cut-down also separates me form you. I wither from self-inflicted cheap-shot wounds.
In the end, Lord, while I wish to ignore it or strike a bargain with it, Paul’s words about your judgment of my judgment are troubling. He said, “…we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.” (Romans 14:10) That kind of terrifies me. It is not you that terrifies me, so much. I have seen your love for me on the cross, in your dying, rising and in your grace given each day. No, what terrifies me is that ALL will stand before you. There is no straight shot to the hellish principal’s office for those who offended me – and I assumed you too. All people – even those who I have found it so easy, so satisfying, to judge and dismiss stand before you. All get a shot at your grace and mercy. I fear that if you can’t help me with this addiction to judgment, I will stand before you surrounded by people who I am sure do not deserve to be there. And then the only thing left for me to judge as unrighteous, and unworthy will be the one who let all those reprobates into your presence – and that would be you. And then I’m lost. But I guess we’ve done that to you before.
Forgive me for my judgments and release me from addiction to judging others. Let me be addicted to love instead, please.
copyright 2016, Timothy V. Olson