Judging is something to be avoided so that we might love each other well.
I have a question for you: What do people watching So You Think You Can Dance? (or any other public voting talent show) and professional sports have in common? Obviously, a rhetorical question since we’re not together. So I’ll just give you my answer: Each of these activities reveals how much fun it is to play God. Maybe that’s a bit dramatic, so let’s put it a bit less grandiose: each of them reveal how much we like being the judge. Even more specifically, each of them reveal how much we like holding other people up to a standard we ourselves could not and will never have to meet.
Do you remember when American Idol was big? And how it turned all of us into voice specialists? Never before had I been so critical of someone’s pitch. (I’m virtually tone deaf.) And remember how most of our athletic ceilings peaked before we were old enough to rent a car? Yet when I watch a sporting event, it is amazing how many passing lanes I see that the players somehow impossibly miss. Oh, and people watching is the best. Before the judgment seat of our mind, we get to determine not only what people are thinking as they do what we can see, but also whether they’re making the right decision in this alter-reality we have constructed for them. (Why is he talking to them like that? And did you see the way she just looked at him?!)
You get the point. But in Matthew 7 and Luke 6, Jesus seems to think we’re at our best when we’re not trying to play God. Jesus will have none of it. Now there is a type of judgment that we are called to, but right now we’re talking about our habit of sizing people up and determining that they do not measure up to our standards of perfection and therefore are not to be treated with dignity, respect, or love. Jesus gives us three reasons to stop judging people in this manner. We do well to hear them and then reinforce them by reminding ourselves of certain truths.
First of all, stop judging people because you are not god. Jesus says, “You hypocrite.” That’s how he starts. The word refers to an actor in a play, literally a “mask-wearer” because they always wore masks when acting. It is someone pretending to be what they’re not. God is good at judging because he’s God. You are not God, therefore you are not good at judging (or at least not as good as you think). So everyone say it with me: “I am not God.” (Maybe repeat a few more times just to drive home the point.) God is not what you see when you look at the mirror at home, or in your car, or in the reflection of your computer screen at work. God does not run your Facebook account. So once more like you mean it: “I am not God!”
Second, stop judging people because you are not perfect. Again, to quote Jesus: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” Our world says, “Don’t judge others, because everyone deserves their own opinion.” Jesus says, “Don’t judge others, because no one deserves their own opinion, including you.” That may be a bit harsh, but hopefully you feel the sharp edge of Jesus’ words. In fact, he knows his point is so harsh that he tells a joke to soften the blow a bit. Maybe he even had a plank and playfully held it up to his face to illustrate the point that such a person has no business entering into the work of speck-removal. All of us can find someone to judge, and we always pick on people that are worse than us. So let’s try this one all together: “I am no better.” (If you can’t stomach that, first of all you probably have too high an opinion of yourself – we’re not saying you’re as bad as the worst person you can think of. We’re saying you need to stop comparing yourself to the worst person you can think of. But if the technical inaccuracy still gets to you I suppose you can replace it with, “I am not perfect.” But only so long as you laugh at yourself a bit for not being able to say it the strong way.)
Third, stop judging people because you will reap what you sow. Once more, Jesus: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Who will measure to you what you have judged in others – God or other people? I think Jesus may deliberately leave this open. To those with ears, please hear! And please say: “I don’t want to be judged.” Remember this one the next time you’re tempted to judge.
Three reasons, and they’re pretty good. I am not God. I am no better. I don’t want to be judged. One more thing and we’ll be done. Jesus doesn’t simply say not to judge because judging is bad. He also says judging is something to be avoided so that we might love each other well. The words of Jesus one last time: “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from the other person’s eye.” Does Jesus want us to help each other get rid of the junk in our lives – some of the junk that we judge? Of course he does! When we’re being judgmental, we sometimes mean well. We say, “I’m just trying to help them. I’m just showing them tough love.” The motivation is good, but the method is problematic. Do not judge. Why? So that you can love well!