22 June 2010

Don't Judge Me - I'm Just Speaking the Truth

An excellent article by Msgr. Charles Pope found at the blog of the Archdiocese of Washington.  How often have we heard someone excuse their behavior or that of another by the words, "don't judge me."  Of course that it utterly fallacious because we judge actions and events every day.  Our society would collapse wthout making judgements.  And as Msgr. rightly points out we cannot believe ourselves to be better than someone else but we can certainly judge that an action is right or wrong.  Here is a portion of the article and the rest should be read here. 
In today’s Gospel there is a Scripture passage that is “too well known.” I say this because the world has picked it up almost as a club to swing at Christians. The text is used almost as if it were the whole Bible and it is used to shut down any discussion of what is right or wrong, what is virtuous or what is sinful. Even many Christians mis-interpret the passage as a mandate to be silent in the face of sin and evil. It is a passage “too well known” because it is remembered but everything else in the Scriptures that balances or clarifies it is forgotten. Here is the passage:

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. ”Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matt 7:1-5)

Any time the Church or an individual Christian points to a certain behavior as wrong or sinful, inevitably wagging fingers are raised and an indignant tone ensues which says something to the effect, “Ah, ah, ah…..you’re being judgmental! The Bible says, judge not. Who are you to judge your neighbor!?” etc. This is clearly an attempt to shut down discussion quickly and to shame the Christian, or the Church into silence. To a large degree this tactic has worked and modern culture has succeeded in shaming many Christians from this essential work of correcting the sinner. Too many are terrified and simply shamed when they are said to be “judging” someone because they call attention to sin or wrongdoing. In a culture where tolerance is one of the only virtues left, to “judge” is a capital offense. “How dare we do such a thing!” The world protests, “Who are you to judge someone else?!”

But pay careful attention to what this Gospel text is actually saying. The judgment in question is not as to the question of right and wrong. Rather, the judgment in question regards punishment or condemnation. The next sentence makes this clear when it speaks of the measure we use. The measure in question is the level of condemnation, harshness or punishment that is used. A parallel passage in Luke makes this clear: Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:36-38). Hence the word “judge” here is understood to mean an unnecessarily harsh and punitive condemnation. To paraphrase the opening verses here would be to say, “Be careful not to be condemning for If you lower the boom on others, you will have the boom lowered on you. If you throw the book at others, it will also be thrown at you.”

Further, the parable that follows in the passage above about the plank in one’s eye does NOT say not to correct sinners. It says in effect, get right with God yourself and understand your own sin so that you will see clearly enough to properly correct your brother. Hence, far from forbidding the correction of the sinner the passage actually emphasizes the importance of correction by underscoring the importance of doing it well and with humility and integrity.

In these times one of the most forgotten virtues and obligations we have is the duty to correct the sinner. It is listed among the Spiritual Works of Mercy. St. Thomas Aquinas lists it in the Summa as a work of Charity: [F]raternal correction properly so called, is directed to the amendment of the sinner. Now to do away with anyone’s evil is the same as to procure his good: and to procure a person’s good is an act of charity, whereby we wish and do our friend well. (II, IIae, 33.1)

Now to be sure, there are some judgments that are forbidden us. For example we cannot assess that we are better or worse than someone else before God. Neither can we always understand the ultimate culpability or inner intentions of another person as though we were God. Scripture says regarding judgments such as these: Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart (1 Sam 16:7). Further we are instructed that we cannot make the judgment of condemnation. That is to say, we do not have the power or knowledge to condemn someone to Hell. God alone is judge in this sense. The same scriptures also caution us against being unnecessarily harsh or punitive. As we already read from Luke, Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven…. For the measure with which you measure will in return be measured out to you (Luke 6:36-38). So in this text “to judge” means to condemn or to be unmerciful, to be unreasonably harsh.

Scripture commends and commands Fraternal Correction: I said above that the Gospel from today’s Mass is, in a sense “too well known.” That is, it has been embraced to the exclusion of everything else, as if it is ALL the Bible has to say about correcting the sinner. But the fact is that over and over again Scripture tells us to correct the sinner. Far from forbidding fraternal correction, the Scriptures command and commend it. I would like to share some of those texts here and add a little commentary of my own in Red.

1. Jesus said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt 18:15-18) Jesus instructs us to speak to a sinning brother or sister and summon them to repentance. If private rebuke does not work and, assuming the matter is serious, others who are trustworthy should be summoned to the task. Finally the Church should be informed. If they will not listen even to the Church then they should be excommunicated (treated as a tax collector or Gentile). Hence in serious matters excommunication should be considered as a kind of medicine that will inform the sinner of how serious the matter is. Sadly this “medicine” is seldom used today even though Jesus clearly prescribes it (at least in more serious matters).

2. It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body I am present in spirit, and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened….I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with immoral men; 10not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But rather I wrote to you not to associate with any one who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you. (1 Cor 5:1-13) So the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul commands that we “judge” the evil doer. Now again in this case the matter is very serious (incest). Notice how the text says he should be excommunicated (handed over to Satan). Here too the purpose is medicinal. It is to be hoped that Satan will beat him up enough that he will come to his senses and repent before the day of judgment. It is also medicinal in the sense that the community is protected from bad example, scandal and the presence of evil. The text also requires us to be able to size people up. There ARE immoral and unrepentant people with whom it is harmful for us to associate. We are instructed to discern this and not keep friendly company with people who can mislead us or tempt us to sin. This requires a judgment on our part. Some judgements ARE required of us.

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