Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For the judgment you give will be the judgment you get, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. –-Matthew 7:1,2
From a column that appeared on July 8 in the NY TIMES, a guest essay by Anne Lamott on the subject of prayer, as a reflection of her relationship with God:
I will have horrible thoughts about others, typically the Christian right or the Supreme Court, or someone who has seriously crossed me, whose hair I pray falls out or whose book fails. I say to God, as I do every Sunday in confession: “Look — I think we can both see what we have on our hands here. Help me not be such a pill.” It is miserable to be a hater. I pray to be more like Jesus with his crazy compassion and reckless love. Some days go better than others. I pray to remember that God loves Marjorie Taylor Greene exactly the same as God loves my grandson, because God loves, period. God does not have an app for Not Love. God sees beyond each person’s awfulness to each person’s needs. God loves them, as is. God is better at this than I am.
Anne Lamott has also noted that the difference between you and God is that God doesn’t think He’s you. All of which brings us to Jesus’ wisdom in today’s passage from the Sermon on the Mount. Apparently knowing us quite well, he speaks about the ways we judge others. We obviously make many judgments on any given day. We have to make decisions. I don’t think that’s what Jesus is talking about.
So what do you think he’s after in this passage? What does it say about us when we judge others? What does it say about those others whoever they may be, i.e., the people we judge? What does it say about what we think about God?
Take them in order. First, what does our propensity for judgment say about us? Have you ever heard someone say: Who am I to judge? It’s a little like someone saying: Bless your heart. There’s always more behind the statement. Who am I to judge, but let me tell you why I think that person is off track. Let me tell you why God should be upset with that person. There’s a gracious dose of hubris implicit in judging. It suggests we see ourselves doing God’s job for God. Here’s the problem: We don’t know as much as God knows. We don’t love as much as God loves.
Then what does it say about how we regard others? What does it mean if we find ourselves passing judgment on others? It can only mean that we think on some deeper level that we are better than those people, a particular temptation for religious folks. It can’t help but bring division. Jesus suggests that the spirit that inclines us to judge others will come back to bite us. The judgment we give will be the judgment we receive. If that’s the field we choose to play on, we will undoubtedly get smacked with judgment ourselves.
Truth be told, it seems that judging other people probably does little to change other people. Have you ever really “won” a political argument or made headway on social media? All that that kind of judgment does is damage community. Once we get into the mode of judging, it can be hard to know where to stop. Pretty soon, we’ve ended up judging everyone around us.
I recognize in myself a potent judgmental streak. I think about where that comes from. I can get really judgmental about the people and communities and ways of thinking that made me judgmental. Talk about a loop! As Anne Lamott prays: Help me not be such a pill.
Finally, what does our judgment say about how we regard God? It implies that God is not up to the task, that God can’t be trusted to be the ultimate judge, that maybe we know better than God does. It implies that we think that the unconditional forgiveness at the heart of the gospel is not really all that unconditional, that it depends on our own judgments, that we become final arbiter in some way.
So what do we do? We recognize we’re all in this together, that every one of us could be judged, that every one of us needs mercy. We each and all need to be given a break. On a regular basis, it helps to give thanks that mercy has come our way. It can be work, it can involve discipline to do that, but it’s worth the trip, even though it’s much more delicious to judge. But as noted, while I’m actually quite judgmental, I have a sense that if I could stop or curtail judgment, I would enjoy life more. I would enjoy relationships more. I would experience greater freedom. I’d be less of a pill.
Psalm 37 has been a help to me in moments when I feel inclined to judge. Portions of that psalm appear above. When I get on my high horse, it helps to turn it over to God, remembering the psalmist’s call, the warning to refrain from fretting about others. It leads only to evil.