Wrong and Right
by: Father Jim Costigan, CPM
Jesus says, “Don’t judge.” America says, “Don’t judge.” Jesus and America mean very different things. Our Lord means : Don’t judge people. Don’t judge souls. Don’t dare to presume to take my place by judging the guilt or innocence of anyone. Our perverse culture saying, Don’t judge means : Don’t be judgmental ; don’t say what I’m doing is wrong ; and just who are you to force your values on me ? When Jesus says, Don’t judge, He’s judging : Thou shalt not judge is a moral judgment – God‘s moral judgment, which means perfect judging, truth. And, ironically, when America tells you, when you’ve brought in morality, You’re being judgmental: that’s America being judgmental, America’s judging you. So, is it ever right to judge ? And when is it wrong ?
The fact is, making judgments is a natural and constant function of the human mind. All of us are judging all the time. Pizza, yeah ; sushi, no. Keep your Meryl Streep ; we’re gonna watch Die Hard XIV. Let’s play some Scrabble ; rummy’s boring. Judgments like these – involving individual taste, tendencies, temperament – about passing things like cuisine, entertainment, sports, pastimes – can spark quarrels, yes, but all that stuff is small-time. Ethics is big-time. That’s because it involves conscience, where we all (excepting the sociopaths and the irreparably seared ) feel discomfort, even pain. It is in the area of moral judgments, and the standards for making them, that the paths of Jesus and of America radically diverge. We’re supposed to judge, but according to God’s Specs. God gives us a critical faculty so that we can use it. But He gives it so that we can use it in the right way and on the right things. Here are some guidelines for judging :
( 1 ) Judge you, not your neighbor.
The main reason you’re not much help to your brother in removing that tiny speck from his eye is that you can’t see too well with a big ol’ plank stuck in your own eye. Focus your critical faculty where it can do some real good : on you, specifically on what’s wrong with you. Fix you first.
( 2 ) Judge behavior, not people.
A gay person says to you, “You’re a Christian. Your religion teaches you to hate me.” You might try answering, “Jesus teaches me to love you – because He loves you. So, since I love you too, I must tell you that your lifestyle is sick, and the acts that you claim define you are actually destroying you. You are not those acts.” Telling a sinner the objective truth about his sin – because you care about him, not because you think you’re better than him – is a good thing, for him and for you. That truth, shared with compassion and sensitivity, blesses both of you.
( 3 ) Hate the sin, love the sinner.
Ask God to help you to understand, to make your own, and to live this little Christian maxim – Hate the sin, love the sinner. – so that you never confuse, much less identify, the sin with the sinner. Promise Jesus today that you will never toss out Hate the sin, love the sinner as the glib and condescending cliché that it is often reduced to. Promise Him that you will work to make it a principle in your heart that will, in time, fully inform you. You will then bless others, especially those trapped in error, or sin, or sinful lifestyles – those, that is, most in need of His mercy.
( 4 ) You’ll be judged the way you judge.
If you judge your brother harshly, Jesus will judge you harshly (Matthew 7:2). If you refuse to forgive your neighbor, Jesus will not forgive you (Matthew 6:12, 14-15). But if you do forgive someone who has offended you, if you do love your enemy and show him mercy, then that’s exactly the way your Judge is going to treat you (Matthew 5:7).
( 5 ) “Who am I to judge ?” – Yuck !
Christians ( and particularly those trained to be spiritual and moral judges – bishops and priests, especially when they act as Confessors ), under a pretence of humility or to escape confrontation, unpopularity, or some other kind of heat, will occasionally respond to a question about morals with the pathetic snivel, Who am I to judge ? Saint Paul rebuked vacillating Christians in Corinth thus : “Don’t you know we’re going to judge angels ?” They were too worldly, or too cowardly, or perhaps, in our parlance, too “tolerant” to judge the case of a couple, son and stepmother, living in flagrant incest ( notice : to judge the case, not the persons ; to judge the behavior, not the souls ). Sometimes a refusal to give a plain answer about the objective moral order ( no, not a judgment on a real person’s guilt or innocence ) may stem from ignorance. But such a refusal may also be a dodging of responsibility, due to fear, human respect, a people-pleasing compulsion, or the like. Who am I to judge ? Yes, Father – yes, Christian – you’re no one to judge anybody else, but you are obliged to make known to others God’s Own moral judgments – His laws, as they are unpacked for us by His Church. Jesus wants us to call things, and especially sins, by their right names.
( 6 ) Usually, correct an erring brother only if:
( a ) you can do it privately, with love and tact, willing his good, not consulting any attendant benefit to you, and without indulging in manipulative games or your own sick control needs ; and ( b ) you have reason to believe your brother will be open to accept the correction or counsel you offer.
( 7 ) Butt out.
Jesus refused to arbitrate property disputes (Luke 12:14), those sad, petty things that so many of us find fascinating. Saint Paul tells us we should prefer to be robbed rather than to bring a lawsuit against a brother (1 Corinthians 6:7). “Who are you to judge another man’s servant ?” demands Paul of contentious Christians (Romans 14:1-23) condemning each other over dietary details and other nonessentials. The point in such situations is this : If you are not obliged to judge the behavior of those in your charge ( as, say, a parent may often be obliged, or a teacher, an employer, a cop, a priest, a judge in a courtroom ), then – leave it alone. If the matter is not clearly and unavoidably your business, butt out. Finally, if you must judge, judge you. You will thereby not only obey Jesus and please your Father, you’ll be saving yourself and everybody else a lot of grief.