7th Sun [C] 2001

Fr. Charles Irvin


1 Samuel 26:2,7-9,12-13,22-23; 1 Corinthians 15:45-49; Luke 6:27-38                            

From time to time I hear parents telling me of their attempts to guide their teenage sons and daughters. The parents are concerned over what their kids are doing after school with newfound friends. Many times these parents are scolded by their kids and told, “Don’t be so judgmental!” Too many times these retorts stop their parents dead in their tracks, especially when they are reminded that Jesus told us not to judge others.

What is really curious is to note how judgmental many teenagers are, especially the ones to tell adults to stop judging! There’s something terribly ironic in that.

We must all remember that Jesus DID judge others… AND Jesus teaches us to judge what is good and bad, what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. Whoever said we’re not supposed to judge what’s good and what’s bad? Yet in today’s Gospel reading we hear those very words of Jesus. As our translation says, “Stop judging.” (Luke 5:37)

The usual application of the complaint “stop judging” is when it is directed at Christians, particularly those Christians who are called fundamentalists, conservative Catholics or the Religious Right. It appears to some folks around us that our condemnation of abortion, premarital sex, homosexual activity, etc. goes against Jesus clear statement not to judge others. But I deny that. Jesus had harsh things to say about people who engage in those activities. Judging the activity is not necessarily judging the person. Good people can, after all, sometimes do bad things.

The false charge has succeeded all too often in intimidating us… it is all a part of a great effort to shove religion into a closet and keep it away from what our urges want us to do. No one wants to be considered an uptight, rigid, inflexible Pharisee or hypocrite. Moreover, all of us are aware of our own vulnerability – like certain people figures, our own failings might come to light and be compared with past moral assertions. People who live in greenhouses shouldn’t throw stones, is the old saying.

While that seems to be prudent, it isn’t what Jesus meant when he said not to judge. First, Jesus himself, while not teaching a new morality, clearly reiterated the demands of the moral law, particularly the Ten Commandments. (Mk 10:19, Mt 5:19, etc.) And St. Paul, who like Jesus emphasized the priority of mercy over law, also insisted on the commandments (Rom 13:9). They guide us, but perhaps more importantly, because of our repeated failures, they make us aware of our need for God’s healing forgiveness. Even the heart clouded by self-deception cannot completely blot out the need for God’s approval.

Although Jesus said not to judge, the commandments themselves involve a judgment of others – and our selves – for certain behaviors. How do we live with this paradox? C.S. Lewis said in teaching morality we should pay attention to our personal failings. Best to avoid comment on areas where we are not particularly tempted. For most of us that still leaves a broad field. I do know a lot about resentments, impatience, lust, intemperance, laziness, envy and gossip. With some reflection I could give an “expert opinion” about those sins. However, I am not so familiar with greed or stealing or political corruption, or some other sins.

Still, because of ones duty in life, being a parent, a teacher, or a priest one may have a duty to warn people about dangers not personally experienced or succumbed to. I may only have second hand knowledge about free-basing, or sniffing, or sexual addictions, but am still obliged to direct people away from things that are quite harmful and therefore evil. I can perhaps help a young person understand that while temptation presents an attractive face, it leads to misery, isolation and cruelty. (In that regard, a recent movie Traffic depicts the hell beneath the surface glamour of drugs.)

We are currently in a culture war, one with very high stakes. We must recognize just who the enemy is. For me, the primary enemy is not the drug traffickers, the abortionists or liberal college professors. Our Ancient Enemy is simply using them. But on a deeper level they, just like us, are hospital patients desperately in need of cure. For me the real enemy is anyone who advocates that we throw away our standards, who tells us to stop thinking and stop judging and let anyone do anything they want to. They are the very same ones who want us to pervert the standards of Jesus when they tell us to “stop judging!” And just who is it that’s judging the attitudes of conservatives?!

Are we to tell the sheriff’s deputy that when we find him giving a ticket to someone who ran a stop sign or who was caught driving recklessly that he’s judging them? If no one is supposed to judge why don’t we dismiss all judges and close down our courtrooms? Why don’t we tell our teachers to stop giving grades on report cards? Why don’t we let others simply do whatever they feel like doing?

“Stop judging” is a sure way to take us all straight into a living hell, the hell of chaos in which everyone does whatever they feel like.

About Charles Irvin

Fr. Charlie was ordained a priest June 3, 1967 and has served as pastor of St. Mary Student Chapel in Ann Arbor, founded Holy Spirit parish in Hamburg, MI, served as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Ann Arbor and was pastor of St. Mary parish in Manchester, MI when he entered Senior Priest status in 2001. In 1999 he was appointed Founding Editor of FAITH Magazine which has grown into Faith Catholic Publishing located in Lansing, MI. He is now very active in his “retirement.”