Stop Judging

(Seventh Sunday, Year C)

Recently a parent told me about attempts to guide her teenage son. She was concerned over what he was doing after school and his new friends. He responded, "Don't be so judgmental." The words paralyzed her, especially when he reminded her that Jesus said not to judge.

Today's we hear those very words of Jesus. As our translation says, "Stop judging." (Lk 5:37) The usual application is to the ones called fundamentalists, conservative Catholics or the Religious Right. It appears to some our condemnation of abortion, premarital sex, homosexual activity, etc. goes against Jesus clear statement not to judge others.*

The charge has intimidated us. No one wants to be considered an uptight, rigid, inflexible Pharisee. Moreover, we know our own vulnerability - that like certain congressmen our lapses might come to light and be compared with past moral assertions. Better not to stick ones head above the foxhole.

While this position seems prudent, it isn't what Jesus meant when he said not to judge. First, Jesus himself, while not teaching a new morality, clearly reiterated the demands of the moral law, particularly the Ten Commandments. (Mk 10:19, Mt 5:19, etc.) And St. Paul, who like Jesus emphasized the priority of mercy over law, also insisted on the commandments (Rom 13:9). They guide us, but perhaps more important, because of our repeated failures, they make us aware of our need for grace. Even the heart clouded by self-deception cannot hide from them. (Rom 2:15)

Altho Jesus said not to judge, the commandments themselves involve a judgment of others - and our selves - for certain behaviors. How do we live with this paradox? C.S. Lewis said in giving moral guidance, focus first on ones own failings. Best to avoid comment on areas where we are not particularly tempted. That still leaves a broad field. I do know a lot about anger, impatience, lust, intemperance, laziness, envy and gossip. With a bit of introspection I could give an "expert opinion" about those sins. However, I am not so familiar with gambling or mind altering drugs (apart from the mug of coffee in front of me now).

Still, because of ones office (parent, pastor, teacher, physician) one may have a duty to warn people about dangers not personally experienced or succumbed to. I may only have second hand knowledge about free basing, but am still obliged to direct people away from it. I can perhaps help a young person understand that while temptation presents an attractive face, it leads to misery, isolation and cruelty. (In that regard, the movie Traffic depicts the hell beneath the surface glamour of drugs. Not a great movie, but at least goes somewhat beyond the cardboard characters which today comprise most films - and almost all television.)

Peter Kreeft gave a good approach. In a talk here in Seattle he described how we are currently in a war with very high stakes. But, he said, we must recognize who the enemy is. It is not the drug traffickers, the abortionists or liberal college professors. They are being utilized by the enemy, but on a deeper level they like us are hospital patients desperately in need of cure. Kreeft's insight (which is really the same as Jesus and Paul) provides the way to avoid watering down the commandments and at the same time follow Jesus' teaching, "Stop judging!"


*It's not that Christians go around condeming people and others don't. Everyone - including "amorals" like Madonna and Eminem - condemns those involved in activities judged wrong: child abusers, drunk drivers, wife batterers, tobacco advertisers who target teens, etc. Few would hesitate to label the violators despicable, pathetic, sick - or worse. We call it zero tolerance which means the offenses are so universally acknowledged as wrong that one does not need to consider how they fit with the whole moral law. The Christian difference is that even for the one we consider most despicable (say the pedophile or the abortion doctor) our goal is not their condemnation, but salvation.

From Archives (Homilies for Seventh Sunday, Year C):

2007: Two Way to Avoid Judgment
2004: You Will Not Be Judged
2001: Stop Judging
1998: A Gallant Young Man

Bulletin (Collection for Fr. Narciso, Ratzinger's Spirit of the Liturgy)


Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

Other Homilies