7th Sun [C] 2007

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 about their attempts to guide their teenage sons and daughters. They are concerned about what their kids are doing after school with their friends. They are concerned, and rightly so, about what their kids are doing or not doing. But many times these parents are scolded by their kids and told, “Stop judging me!” Too many times these retorts stop 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 people are, not just kids, especially when they tell others to stop judging! There’s something terribly ironic in that.

The ones who complain about judging others are themselves judging!!

In today’s Gospel reading we hear Jesus telling us to, “Stop judging.” But at the same time we must all remember that Jesus did, in fact, judge the behavior of others. Take what He had to say to the Pharisees, for just one example. Furthermore, Jesus teaches us to seek what is good and reject what is bad, discern what is right behavior and what is wrong behavior. Where is it written that we are not supposed to judge what is good behavior and what is bad?

The frequent application of the complaint “stop judging” is often directed at committed Christians. We are called fundamentalists, fanatics, or told that we are the thought police of the religious Right. It appears to some folks around us that our rejection of abortion, and our rejection of aspects of the Culture of Death, for just a couple of examples, goes against Jesus’ clear statement about not judging others. But I deny that. Jesus had hard things to say about people who engage in destructive activities.

We need to see that judging the activity of someone is not necessarily judging the person. Good people, well intentioned people, can after all, sometimes do bad things. Are we to simply allow their bad behavior to go without comment?

When Jesus said, “Stop judging” He was telling us that only God sees the real inner person, we don’t. The judgment about who is going to hell and who is not is God’s judgment, not ours. The judgment about who is a bad person is God’s judgment, not ours. All too often we pre-judge others. Our prejudices bring us to condemn others for who they are rather than what they do. Racial and ethnic discrimination along with discrimination against others because of their religion bring us to judge others unjustly.

We need to distinguish and realize that although Jesus told us not to judge, the commandments themselves involve a judgment of others – and of our selves – as to certain behaviors. They never involve a judgment about who another person really is.

How do we live with this paradox? C.S. Lewis said that in teaching morality we should pay attention to our own personal failings. He said it is best to avoid comment on areas where we are not particularly tempted but others are. For most of us, that still leaves a broad field. From my own experience I know a lot about resentments, impatience, lust, intemperance, laziness, envy and gossip. With some reflection I could give an “expert opinion” about those sins based on my own experience. However, I am not so familiar with greed, or stealing, or political corruption, or some other sins. Am I qualified to judge only when my thoughts are based only on my own experiences? Am I disqualified to comment on things outside of my own experiences? Of course not.

Because of one’s station in life, being a parent, a teacher, or a priest, for instance, 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, yielding to it can leads to misery, isolation and cruelty. After all, isn’t it true that many sins bring with them their own punishment?

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 so-called liberal college professors. Our Ancient Enemy is simply using them. At a deeper level they, just like us – we are all spiritual hospital patients desperately in need of cures. 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 to let anyone do anything they want to. They are the ones who want us to pervert the standards of Jesus when they tell us to “stop judging!”

When we find a police officer giving a ticket to someone who ran a stop sign, or who was caught driving recklessly, are we to accuse him of judging others? Are we to tell him to stop judging? If no one is supposed to judge, then 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?

To suspend judgment on human behavior is a sure way to take us all into a living hell, the hell of chaos in which everyone does whatever they feel like. To a great extent that is exactly what is going on in the increasingly chaotic world in which we find ourselves today. Upholding standards for human behavior is necessary if we are to hold our society together.

When it comes, however, to judging who people are, we must do what Jesus wants us to do. With Him He wants us to hate the sin but love the sinner. And at the end of the world, on that final Day of Judgment, we must always remember that it is God who will be sitting on the throne… we will not.

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.”