By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Should You "Judge"?

! Love My Dog(s) November '06 MosaicImage by waɪ.tiː via FlickrThat is a perennial Christian question because of the famous verse telling us, "Judge not, that ye be not judged," in Matthew 7 (KJV):


Judging OthersLk. 6.373841421 Judge not, that ye be not judged. 2 For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. Mk. 4.24 3 And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? 4 Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? 5 Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye. 6 ¶ Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.


In the Old Testament, we face similar challenges and have to interpret some, if not most, of the proverbs by looking at context, at a particular situation, and at timing. Let's try to take the same particularizing approach here.

If we read thoughtfully the famous command not to judge along with the other verses forming the context, the basic meaning seems clear: do not play the hypocrite who criticizes others but gives himself a blank check. I see here the basic attitude that is the key to living in touch with reality: humility.

Humility means not seeing the ongoing story of our own lives and, equally, the lives of others as complete before they are complete. Humility means bowing to the mystery of the complexities of life as people make their journey in the wilderness--that "bowing" to the complexities facing others requires that we first learn about those complexities and not shoot recklessly from the hip. Humility means that we do not foreclose the Promised Land to either ourselves or to anyone else.

On the other hand, humility does not mean that we are not compassionately troubled when we see self-destructive acts. Our response to the self-destructive acts of others is to propose a different course for them, not to sneer at them. In fact, humility leads us to judge acts as harmful and to respectfully propose a different course to our friends.

Notice that the framework is one of friendship which takes time to develop. Humility says that there go I, but for the grace of God, but for the providential learning and self-awareness that come from hard experience. Humility aware of our own stupidity sees the stupidity of the behavior of others and seeks to propose another route that will avoid a personal dead end for others, the same dead end from which we ourselves have turned away. Thus, counseling others requires maturity, maturity borne out of our own similar struggles. So, maybe, any form of judging is not something that the very young or inexperienced should even contemplate doing for some time.

As you can see, the approach rooted in humility is the complete contrary of the arrogance that Jesus condemns. Thus, my own interpretation of the famous passage about not judging is to add an adverb to the command: do not judge others arrogantly, but do judge others within the framework of personal humility, kindness, and friendship which seeks to offer to others the way out that we have stumbled upon ourselves.

Where do I see the textual justification for these sentiments? I see them in the crucial verses 5 and 6 above, which often are ignored in our casual recalling of this famous passage in our everyday thinking and conversations.

A. Verse 5 gives us the formula--reread it above before reading what comes next!

First, clean up your own act, examine yourself. Once we examine ourselves, we realize our own state of ongoing imperfection, struggle, and trial-and-error. Only then, after taking this first step, look and evaluate the behavior of others. They, too, are trying to climb out of some hole, a hole due to some tragedy or to some emotional problem or to some form of suffering or to some type of troubled upbringing. Only then, when you see that you are the same as the other, can you even begin to try to evaluate the behavior of the other. Yet, also notice that the ultimate goal is not so much to evaluate as to aid the other, to help him or her. The ultimate purpose is compassion, not berating or attacking or controlling or managing the other. The goal is to "cast out the mote" out of the eye of the other, not to prattle about the mote to the other person or to other people.

B. Verse 6 (also reread verse 6 above!) gives us a firm warning applicable to this entire process.

Verse 6 gives, in my view, a very realistic warning that reminds me of the Old Testament proverb not to grab a dog by the ear, or else we will find ourselves bitten (see Proverbs 26:17). Even with the best of intentions, we need to build friendship before trying to help others with advice or counsel. We need to demonstrate agape first--a process which is naturally gradual and time-consuming. In the process of building that agape friendship, we are also humbly learning about the complexities of the personality, past and current trials, and struggles of others. Only after that journey (which comes at different rates of speed) are we ready to respectfully address the journey of our neighbors. This practical wisdom is captured by the common warning not to try to rearrange the furniture of another's life before first building a relationship of mutual confidence.

The bottom-line is to tread carefully, humbly, and with docility, with our personal commitment to being "teachable" by the complexities of the lives of others, whenever we are tempted to "judge" others. It is a subtle task. That is why, ironically, for most of us, it is indeed better to follow the superficial reading--if you are not willing to be and work at being subtle, then you are better off not judging at all! If subtlety is foreign to your personality, don't even go there. Maybe, that reality is why Jesus starts by stating the famous command about judging so baldly and stringently, since he knows what is in us so well.










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