Thursday, June 5, 2014

Reflections on Not Judging

People like to cite Matthew 7:1-5 when it comes to moral teaching. Saying something is not compatible with the Christian life is met with the argument that this is judging, and Christ said not to judge. Therefore you're judging by saying that it's wrong. 



That is a dubious claim to be sure. So let's look at what it says: 


Stop judging, that you may not be judged. 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. 


The point in these verses is not to say that you can't say something is wrong. Otherwise, the part about "remove the wooden beam from your eye first" would make no sense. If we're not supposed to judge anything, then why remove your own? Live and let live, right? 


But under that logic, we can't speak against the actions of the murderer, the rapist or the tyrant like Hitler. If it's wrong for the Christian to say that abortion or homosexual acts are wrong because we're forbidden to judge actions, then it stands to reason we can't say that genocide is wrong under the same criterion--judging actions being forbidden.  Since this conclusion is absurd, it's clear that this is not the true meaning of the verses. 


What is being spoke of here is not the forbidding of determining whether actions are right or wrong. It's about judging a person's life--one's own or that of others. We're not to decide, "This person's life is worth saving, that person's life is not. This person is worthy of respect, that person is not." 


Or, to use an example, imagine the person saying: "Nancy Pelosi is going to Hell, so the Pope should excommunicate her and be done with it." That goes against the Scripture because we can't just write her off. We are called to love and correct the sinner. If she chooses to reject the teaching of the Church and dies in final impenitence, God will judge her, and that judgment will be final. But that judgment hasn't happened yet and God wants us to be His instrument to reach out to her. He also wants us to be His instrument to reach out to other sinners.


Imagine what the Church might have lost if St. Ambrose had decided that this Augustine guy was a lost cause doomed to Hell.  St. Ambrose neither wrote him off nor said his behavior didn't matter. He bore witness to the truth of good and evil, and he bore witness to the love of God.  


It's only when we understand this that we can understand the Pope's words: "Who am I to judge?"  He was speaking of a priest alleged to have a notorious past that some thought should have disqualified him from his current appointment. Pope Francis addressed this attitude by pointing out that if a person repents of his past and seeks to live rightly from that point on, he will not hold that past against him. 


His statement actually demonstrates that sin exists and is wrong—but repentance and forgiveness also exist. We can't deny others that repentance and forgiveness or else it will be denied to us.

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