One of the most frequently taken out of context Bible verses must be this one from today’s Gospel: “Do not judge and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn and you will not be condemned yourselves” (Luke 6: 37). This is a favourite verse that the secular world, and people who know nothing about religion, Christ or His Church like to bash us with! It’s like a Biblical proof text of relativism – the “you’re okay, I’m okay” mentality. If, for example, we state that certain activities, usually in the sexual arena, are morally wrong, we often receive a response along the lines of, “Stop judging me because JESUS said we shouldn’t judge others.” And we have fingers wagged at us. After all, didn’t Pope Francis say, “Who am I to judge?” Now when people talk like this, it is clearly an attempt to shut down all discussion and to shame the Christian or the Church into silence. But correcting or admonishing the sinner is one of the ‘spiritual works of mercy’ and Scripture constantly counsels us to correct sin. (See, for example, Matthew 18:15-18, James 5:19).
Nowadays, too many are terrified to say anything at all in case someone will accuse them of being judgmental, fascist or rigid when they call attention to sin or wrongdoing. “How dare you say such a thing! Who are you to judge someone else?” This is a misrepresentation of Our Lord’s teaching. It is very clear that Our Lord is not saying you cannot judge the moral value of an action. Such an assertion would be absurd. What He means (if you read it in context with the second half of the verse) is that you cannot pass judgment on the state of a person’s soul. Whereas ‘judgment’ can be applied by us to a person or an action, ‘condemnation’ or pronouncing a final verdict on someone is something only God can do. He is the final judge of all. But people need time to repent, and a correction or a rebuke should be an aid to this process, and not a means to intimidate or humiliate a person. And so at the end of this Gospel reading, Our Lord further warns, “the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back”. In other words, if we are unnecessarily harsh or severe with others, God will mete out to us the same treatment. In the words of St James, “Judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).
Another reason the secular interpretation of Our Lord’s words on judging is wrong, is the fact that after having said not to condemn, He says you must pardon or forgive if someone has wronged you. Now you cannot forgive someone unless they have actually done something wrong. So this presupposes moral absolutes. In other words JESUS is not a relativist!
Finally, when someone criticises you for correcting or ‘judging’, notice they are doing precisely the same thing with you. We should recognise this hypocrisy and not be fooled by this false interpretation of Our Lord’s words.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC