Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Let's get to the nitty-gritty of Jesus' admonition against being judgmental by making an essential distinction: there is a difference btw “judging an act to be immoral” and “judging to person to be immoral.” For example, the Church has always believed that the direct killing of innocent life is an intrinsically morally evil act; therefore, regardless of intent or circumstance, abortion may never be called good. Now, let's say a Catholic female friend of yours procures an abortion and tells you about it. You respond, “Abortion is a mortal sin.” She yells at you, “Get the splinters out of your own eye before you judge me!” How do you answer her? You can take the easy way out and back off immediately, allowing her judgment of you to shut you up. Or, if you're feeling the Spirit's courage, you might say, “I'm not judging you. I'm judging the act of procuring an abortion.” If you want to violate the Lord's admonition not to judge, you could respond, “You are guilty of murder and need to go to confession immediately!” Just know: “. . .as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.”
Now that we've made the distinction between judging an act and judging a person, let's look carefully at what Jesus teaches about making judgments. First, as Christians, are we forbidden from judging acts? No, we're not. In fact, we are often required to judge the morality of an act before we do it. Is it moral for me to deceive this person under these circumstances? The cashier gave me too much change: is it moral for me to keep it? Is smacking this person up side the head moral? I'm late for work: may I speed? We are free to deliberate on the morality of acts b/c we are obligated as Christians to behave morally. Are we forbidden from judging persons? No, we're not. But there's a catch. A big catch. Jesus says to remove the splinter from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from mine. If your eye is free of splinters, then start removing splinters from mine! Here's the catch: you will be judged as you judge, and the measure you use to measure me will be used to measure you. So, make sure that the standard you use to judge me is one that you yourself can live up to. Hypocrisy is the art of applying one standard to yourself and a completely different standard to others. And we all know what Jesus thinks of hypocrites!
Why do we so consistently ignore or twist Jesus' teaching on hypocrisy? He asks, “Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye?” Well, it's certainly easier for me to worry about your faults than my own. If I pay too much attention to my sins, I might actually have to think about confessing them, and that's no fun. It's also easier for me to accuse you falsely of being judgmental if I don't want to repent of my favorite sin. Judge not lest ye be judged! That's part of the teaching. . .the part that supposedly lets me off the hook for sinning when you bring the sin to my attention. You might have several yards of lumber in your eye when you point out the toothpick in mine. The fact that you're a sinner too doesn't mean I'm a saint. It just means that we are both sinners. So, what's a good Christian to do when a friend is sinning? Take a careful inventory of your own moral life. Pay very, very careful attention to your motivations for wanting to point out a friend's sin. And then decide if you are willing to be judged by the standard you think proper for your friend. No one is perfect. But no one is purely evil either. Gamble on mercy—that's the measure Christ uses, whether we deserve it or not.___________________
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