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Am I Judging?
Monday of the Twelfth Week in Ordinary Time
Jesus said to his disciples: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.”
Opening Prayer: You are here with me right now, Lord. You are thinking of me. You have something you want to give me today, something you want to teach me, something you want me to do. I turn the attention of my heart to you. Please help me hear your voice. Help me discover the gift you want to give me today. Help me be your faithful companion and get to know you better. May your name be praised in my heart and my life, O Lord!
- Seeing versus Judging: It is very, very easy to misinterpret Jesus’s injunction in today’s Gospel to “Stop judging, that you may not be judged.” A superficial reading of this passage can make us think that we are supposed to be blind to the faults and failings of those around us. When we try to act like that, as if we simply don’t see the shortcomings or sins of other people, we set ourselves an impossible task. People sin. People make mistakes. People do stupid and bothersome things. To pretend that we don’t notice those things is to shut ourselves off from reality. And that is never a good idea. Jesus is not telling us, “Stop noticing things; don’t look at reality.” Not at all! Rather, Jesus is telling us to stop judging our neighbor for the things they do. We can certainly condemn sin and point out the destructive nature of certain behaviors. But we can never pretend to understand fully why someone sins. We can never know the full story of a human heart. We don’t know the wounds, the scars, the blindspots, and the countless other factors that go together to lead someone to make a particular choice. Only God can fathom the almost infinite depths and complexities of a human heart. And yet, ever since original sin, we have had a strong tendency to want to act as if we are God. We love pretending that we know the whole story behind someone’s sin. We love putting people in boxes, labeling them, and thus elevating ourselves above them (at least in our own minds). These are diabolical tendencies of our fallen nature. When we give in to them, we reject the call to build Christ’s Kingdom and to let him be King. And when we do that, we separate ourselves from him. That’s a bad idea. Because when we put ourselves on the judgment seat, we distance ourselves from God’s mercy.
- A Spiritual Shake-Up: The contrast between a splinter in our brother’s eye and a wooden beam in our own eyes is one of the most vivid comparisons in the Gospels. Jesus needed a vivid comparison in order to wake us up to this point. For us fallen human beings living in a fallen world, it is second nature to think and speak badly of other people. We do it so often and so easily that we don’t even know we are doing it most of the time. But to step back and reflect on our own lives and faults and failings—that is much harder for us to do. And yet, unless we do that, we simply cannot see the truth of other people. Our own wounds and blindspots make it impossible for us to see other people as God sees them. We must learn to know ourselves, to truly understand our unique personality, our prejudices, our talents, our weak points, our strengths, the hidden fears at work underneath our more obvious motivations. Even the pre-Christian Greek philosophers understood the importance of this deep, thorough self-knowledge for growth in wisdom—thus the ancient motto, know thyself. We will never have peace in our hearts if we don’t grow in self-knowledge and learn to manage our strong tendency to be judgmental towards others. We cannot live our lives in the light if a wooden beam is stuck in our eyes. Jesus uses striking language in this part of the Sermon on the Mount, because we need to be shaken up in order to shake off this ingrained habit of thinking and speaking judgmentally of other people. We must learn to be like Christ; we must learn to love every sinner, starting with ourselves, even while we hate every sin.
- Measuring Up: Jesus promises that “the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you.” This provides us with an unbelievable opportunity. If we decide (and we do have the freedom to make these kinds of decisions) to measure out to others an abundance of kindness, forgiveness, generosity, care, concern, sincere interest, appreciation, and patience, then Jesus promises we will receive the same. Jesus is fair. He invented fairness. He knows that fairness requires correcting those who treat others unfairly and ungenerously. And he also knows that fairness requires rewarding those who do what is right and good. He wants us to experience the rewards that come from living life as it is meant to be lived—the reward of “blessedness” as he pointed out at the very beginning of his Sermon on the Mount. All his teaching is designed to enlighten and strengthen us to live life well, so that we can experience the blessedness we long for, the blessedness we were created for. If I were to die today and go before the throne of Jesus, what “measure” would he have to use for me?
Conversing with Christ: You know my heart, Lord. You know how hard it is for me to see people as you see them. I am so quick to judge, to demean, to dismiss, to mock, to belittle, to reject, to resent. I thank you for not being that way with me. I think you for your patience, your mercy, your goodness towards me. You always give me another chance. You always believe in me. You never give up on me. Teach me, Lord, to know just how broken I am, so that I be truly amazed at the depths of your goodness—so amazed that I fall into those depths and learn to be more like you.
Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a conscious effort to understand someone who rubs me the wrong way or upsets me. I will consciously postpone judging that person, in order to create space for you to teach me how to see others as you see them.
For Further Reflection: Short Video: Christlike Love in Our Words (conference from Teacher and Lord do-it-yourself Retreat Guide).
Written by Fr. John Bartunek, LC.