Behind these two words “judge not” (Matthew 7:1) stand the champions of moral relativism. Before the wall the relativists erect with these two words, Christians drop their weapons, seemingly defeated by a rampart they thought was meant for their own defense. The Gospels are the ultimate love story and from their midst not only do we find we are not to judge, but we are also to throw no stones and to turn the other cheek. In a world that increasingly dismisses Christian faith as outmoded, judgmental and even hateful we seem defenseless. We find ourselves asking for the gloried Excalibur and receive in its place a Nerf sword of plastic and foam.
But are we really left flailing the air with a toy sword? Many Christians have seemingly accepted this. They have accepted that loving your neighbor and not judging him leave the Christian with no other option than to pat him on the back and to assure him that he will be fine, that we can accept him just as he is. To do otherwise is to judge and only God can do that. This works. It is comfortable for both parties, calling neither to any particular effort, and it fits well within our modern concept of love as something that makes everyone feel good.
Yet the ultimate love story ends with the ignominious death of the ultimate lover, the one who turned the other cheek, the one who threw no stones and the one who could have judged but never did. It ends not with the whimper of the weak and the wielding of an ineffectual weapon but with the wind of the Holy Spirit turning history on its head and coloring the world with a new lightness and a new hope. This should indicate that if our love is too comfortable, maybe it isn’t love at all. If the love of Jesus led to his giving everything in the most discomfiting way imaginable, perhaps we need to reconsider our own love when it requires nothing of us. Perhaps the decision to not judge is no more abjectly passive than was Christ’s decision to accept the cross. Perhaps the call to not judge is actually a call to courageous action.
Orthodox. Faithful. Free.
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To begin to understand this we must see ourselves not as nags sent to wheedle, correct and cajole but as people with something to give, as Christ came to give. But we must first understand the gift and be sure it is in our hands to pass on. The word “gospel” means good news. The good news is that the gift we need to give is freely offered to us. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus himself describes the gift: “The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.” (Matthew 13:45) In other words, the gift is worth more than anything else we could possibly own. It is worth having at all costs and it is offered to all. If we fully understand the gift we will want it and, like the merchant, will give up all to have it. We will clean out our attics, our closets and our cellar because it is a gift so large it will fill our house completely.
Yet if we see the Gospels as a promise and a light in our own lives but as a club to wield over the lives of others, then we have underestimated and misunderstood the good news. We have not fully cleaned our house. We can only understand the gift when we understand that “God is love,” (1 John 4:8) and that love is a gift of self freely given as God gave himself in the life of Jesus. It is only in the giving that it truly becomes love. To understand the good news of the gospels is to see that we cannot hold it as our own. By its very nature this good news must be passed on. Its very nature compels us to invite all to its message, much as a bride and bridegroom, anxious to share their love for each other, will not be content until everyone has been invited to their wedding. It was this spirit with which the Apostles went forth after Pentecost, not to cram goodness down everyone’s throat, but to pass on the love that had become integral to their own lives. They preached not to look down on sinners but to fill the holes that sin left in people’s lives. They went forth bearing gifts, and they gave completely, offering their very lives, because they could not hold the light in their hand, call it their own, and still possess it.
The call of the Gospels is to love and to love completely. Jesus showed us that this love was to give and give completely, that love is in the gift offered not the threat delivered. The Kingdom of heaven is in that love. It is a Kingdom to be lived now and more completely beyond this life where all love is lived completely. To understand this love is to understand that sin is the absence of love. It is a void in our lives crying to be filled. To love is not to see evil and condemn it but to see ourselves and our neighbors as lepers, blind men and cripples in need of a cure. It is to understand that a God of love can no more love our disability than a mother could love the cancer her child carries. It is with this love that we must see both ourselves and our neighbors.
When we see this we will see that love allows no moral high ground. To love is not to see sin in others as an opportunity for self-righteous acclamation, but as a time for sadness, not because the sin deserves condemnation but because it blinds the sinner to the greater glories within his reach. It is the sadness of watching the sun rise to a new day with a friend who is blind. It is a sadness that cries, “Let me be you, and let you be me, so you can see what I can see.” It is a sadness that knows that such an offer is incomprehensible because sin has pre-empted the very idea of a rising sun. It is a sadness knowing a friend has accepted darkness for light, blindness for sight. It is a sadness that Jesus must have felt for Judas when he left the last supper to go about his business.
To love is not to condemn but to hope and to pray for a ray of light to penetrate the darkness. To love is to never condemn but to see the sinner as one who has condemned himself. To love is to help the sinner find his way out of his own condemnation, out of his own self imposed blindness. To love is to see that you cannot judge and must not judge because in doing so you would accept the condemnation sin imposes. Love can no more accept this than a loving mother can smother her child. But to understand this, is to see that love cannot accept the unlove, the sin that has blinded the beloved. To love and not judge are simply complements. To love and ignore sin are diametric opposites, because to ignore sin is to judge, to condemn and to give up hope on either yourself or your neighbor. This love does not allow.
To love is to see that we must perfect ourselves. Jesus does not conclude his adjuration to not judge with the suggestion that we walk away but with the command to “first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:5) We are not told to walk away but to put our own house in order and then return to help our brother. To help others see we must first remove our own blindness. To not do so renders us inadequate to share a vision we cannot fully see or comprehend. It renders us incapable of loving completely. To not perfect ourselves is to offer our neighbor a candle when he needs the sun. It is only when we have freed ourselves from sin that we can see the slavery in which it held us. Only then will we see that the gift we offer is not a cudgel to beat out righteousness but a shovel to dig our neighbor out of the binding mire and a light to pierce the blinding gloom. We return to our neighbor as God’s abolitionists, not to castigate the slave and blame him for his slavery, but to free him.
“Judge not” is not a call to passivity. To “judge not” is to fully embrace our plea in the Fatima prayer in the rosary when we ask God to “lead all souls to heaven.” To “judge not” is a call to action, but an action that must start in our own lives. We must begin with an examination of our own faith. When we see our faith as something good for us but of no use to our neighbor, we have judged our neighbor as unworthy of what we have. We cannot love and not give the thing we consider most precious. If we have nothing precious to give, or if we consider the good news of the Gospels one of many competing and worthy tales spanning the different cultures of the world, then we actually believe in nothing more than a fairy tale that makes us feel good. We must see the “precious” in our faith. We must actively seek and maintain the light that is too precious to keep to ourselves.
When we truly find that light the need to shine it everywhere will be compelling. Anything less than its full exposure means we have passed judgment. When we tepidly proclaim the word of the Lord so as not to give offense, we judge our listeners to be beyond its benefit. When we mute the doctrinal teaching of the Church so as not to challenge, we judge people deserving of the sin that enslaves them. When we greet all with open arms after first hiding the silver freely given to us, we judge ourselves bankrupt with nothing to give. When we treat sin as anything less than a cancer on mankind, we have judged mankind unworthy of love. When we hunger for the bread of life and deny that hunger in others, we judge them as less than human, as less than made in the image of God.
To “judge not” offers a love that never gives up on your neighbor or yourself, because to give up would be to judge life as hopeless. “Judge not” seldom travels in company with good feelings, because truth lived or spoken will offend just as Christ, who did not judge, offended and was crucified. Yet, when we “judge not” we take no offense when we are mocked and maligned, because the very sickness of sin is to reject love, and it is the sickness we seek to cure. Love offers itself even when it finds itself judged, slapped and stoned, because love never judges sin as an affront but as an occasion for even greater love.
Only when we see our neighbor in the light of God’s love, as someone equally loved, will we see that “judge not” is not submission to moral relativism, nor is it a position of weakness, but an active call to perfection, to sharing the good news of the Gospels with all and to overcoming the desolation of sin with the assertion of a divine and unwavering love. When we fully embrace the love of “judge not” we will find ourselves wielding a sword far mightier than Excalibur.