Fewer texts have been used more than Matt 7:1: “do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Sometimes this text is used properly; other times it seems that Christian folks use the text to encourage all of us not to discern something good from bad, the beautiful from the ugly. The line is “I can’t be judgmental.” What do you think it means “not to judge”?
It is reasonably clear to see that the standard we use to judge another is the standard that will be used against on That Day. Here are some things that are not involved in what Jesus is saying.
1. Discerning what is right from what is wrong: it is never good to murder.
2. Wholehearted gullibility: Christians need to have a profound level of discernment.
3. Absolute elimination of governmental judicial systems.
4. Parental decisions to let their children do whatever they want in the name of freedom.
Those who think this text encourages a lack of moral discernment fail to engage Jesus: this is the one who could let the purveyors of sytemic injustices have it with both barrels. Ever read Matthew 23? Or even Matthew 6:1-18? Jesus was full of moral discernment; so should we be.
For me, the profoundest comment on this text is by the younger brother of Jesus: James. First, in chp 2 of his letter to the “twelve tribes,” James says that Christians are not to show deference to the rich and oppressive behaviors toward the poor (2:1-7); second, he enjoins upon his readers to be merciful to others because mercy triumphs over judgment (2:8-13).
In other words, “not being judgmental” is a way of saying “be merciful” to all — regardless.
And, on top of this, James speaks of learning that humans are Eikons of God (3:9).
Ultimately, God is the Judge of humans; humans do no more than discern. To judge is to condemn someone to hell, to condemn someone to inferior status, to bracket them from existence, to put others into a condition that makes them undeserving of love and respect and integrity. To discern is to determine the good from what is less than good.
In the history of the Church, many have been judged: one thinks of American Indians, of African Americans, of Mexicans, and then one can expand this to how Evangelicals and Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox have treated one another, or spoken of one another, or thought of one another — and it would not be hard to go on. We’ve all been far too judgmental. Jesus calls us to beware that such standards will be used against us. His summons is for those who are willing to be merciful.
Imagine the hurt and wounds that those who are so judged have experienced: imagine how Mary was treated, how Jesus was treated, and how the early Christians were treated. It does not take a fertile imagination to come to terms with a significant stance we need to have: other-ing is the not the way of Jesus.