By Mike Denz
Phrases that have become very popular retorts in our culture are, “Don’t be judgmental,” “Who are you to judge me?” “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” and “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” These retorts are usually made by someone who just had their own sinful behavior pointed out. The person pointing out the sin is in turn vilified for being “judgmental.” Does this sound familiar? Have you been on the judging side or the judged side? Who is right in these situations?
This situation has its root in bad theology. Specifically, most believe that when Jesus said, “Judge not lest you be judged,” (Matthew 7:1) that He was teaching that we are not to judge, that He meant that you can’t tell someone that they are sinning (even if they are). This could not be further from the truth. Jesus is not telling us never to judge, but to judge fairly.
Listen to the rest of what Jesus said in context (verses 2-5): “For with the judgment you pronounce, you will be judged.” Jesus means that if you judge out of vengeance or with evil intent, God will judge you for this, but if you judge honestly and with good intentions, God’s judgment of you will reflect this too.
“The measure you give will be the measure you get” (Luke 6:38). Here, Jesus is telling us that God’s judgment on us will depend on whether we use exaggerations and other dishonest means when we judge. If we judge with fairness and compassion, we will be judged the same way.
“Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” (Luke 6:41) Jesus wants to know why we point out the small sin of another, but pretend not to see our own greater sin.
“Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (v. 42). This does not mean that only those who don’t sin can judge, it means that one should not judge if you are not willing to acknowledge and strive to correct your own sins.
You see, the difference between the judge and the judged is not the difference between a perfect person and a bad person. It is the difference between a person who acknowledges their faults and strives for perfection and a person who pretends they have no faults or refuses to call their behavior sinful.
Jesus commands us to teach others the commandments, and does so rather harshly, “Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19).
There are other times in the New Testament where we are instructed to judge one another’s actions: Matthew 18:15-17, John 7:24, 1Corinthians 6:2-3. The Spiritual Works of Mercy tell us to “to admonish sinners and to instruct the ignorant.” It is a mercy to tell someone about their sin, because it is done with the intention of helping them become closer to God.
Jesus does teach us not to judge the heart, or to condemn someone to Hell. That is what the people wanted to do to the woman caught in adultery. In John 8:1-11, Jesus stops the crowd from condemning the woman by telling them not to throw a stone unless they are without sin. But after He forgives her, He tells her to sin no more. He corrects the sinner.
We are commanded to judge the sin, not the sinner. When we point out someone else’s sin, we should do so with love and compassion, and with the intent of helping the person see that their actions are not only hurting others, but hurting themselves. We should want them to see that their relationship to God is more important than anything, and that it is important to us as well. When we sum it all up, in order to love one another we must obey the command of Jesus’ to teach one another the commandments.
Mike Denz is a catechist who’s been teaching the Faith for over 17 years and is currently the host of our live call-in show, Calling All Catholics. Mike and his wife, Sue, lead pilgrimages to Rome several times a year. You can reach him at Rome@TakeaPilgrimage.com.