Thursday, April 28, 2011

Judge Not!

Jesus said to him, ‘Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. - Mark 10:18

That is the response of Jesus to a man who had just knelt before him, addressed him as "Good teacher," and asked about eternal life.  I always have trouble identifying irony (I'm a chemical engineer, after all.), but I think this example of God asking a man why he is being called good because only God is good might qualify.  It is difficult to be sure what is going on.  Maybe Jesus recognized that the man seemed to know that He was God.  Or maybe Jesus simply saw the occasion as a teachable moment about judging.  Or, perhaps as suggested by commentator Pheme Perkins in The Interpreter’s Bible, Jesus was just trying to keep the focus on God alone and avoid any shift of attention from God to himself.

We have a more explicit and much more widely quoted statement about judging in Matthew 7:1.   "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged."  That's confusing because we seem to be promised in scripture that we will be judged (Hebrews 9:27 for example).  Perhaps that is the reason that many read Matthew 7:1 as "Don't condemn so that you may not be condemned."  That doesn't help because we also know from scripture that whether we are condemned is not a function simply of whether or not we condemn (John 3:18 for example).  It is sometimes assumed that Jesus’ following statement, “in the same way you judge others, you will be judged,” refers to the final judgment, but it is hard for me to believe that God is going to adjust His standards of judgment to match ours.  So it seems more reasonable to me to see this Matthew 7:1 commandment as applying to earthly life, the way we are to live with each other, than to the final judgment.

I humbly offer my simple and unauthoritative solution to this question of what we are to do about judging each other.  Maybe the two verses, the warning against calling anyone good and the warning against judging, can be considered together to mean that we are not to be either approving or disapproving each other but rather to just be loving unconditionally in accord with the second greatest commandment (Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. - Mark 12:31).  Surely we can accept and live with and care for others without making personal judgments about them.  After all, we know that our basis for making such personal judgments, either positive or negative, is limited because, "...the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart." 1 Samuel 16:7

Well, the realization that the Lord is looking on our hearts should really give pause.  Putting up a good front won’t make any difference in that case.

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