Who am I to judge?

– Monday of the Second Week of Lent –

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Be compassionate as your Father is compassionate. Do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned yourselves; grant pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and there will be gifts for you: a full measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap; because the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back.’ [Luke 6:36 – 38]

In recent years, one of the often-confused aspects of Christian moral thinking has to do with the concept of judgment. One of the Pope’s most quoted statements is “Who am I to judge?” Jesus says in today’s gospel, “do not judge, and you will not be judged yourselves.” This is often thought to mean that we are not free to make any judgements about anything, as though the only thing we are allowed to judge and condemn is judgement and condemnation. The reality is, we’re judging things all the time. It’s likely that you’re already making a judgement about this reflection.

A way to understand Jesus’ command not to judge is to recognise a distinction between three forms of judgement. First, we learn about final judgement where Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats (Matt 25). Only Jesus can make this kind of judgment, primarily because he is God, and only God has all the information. Only God can judge the human heart because only God can see all of it. So firstly, we are not free to make judgements regarding where anyone might spend eternity.

The second form of judgment is found in the gospels and, indeed, throughout the bible. In the scriptures, there are many actions that are judged to be wrong: murder, adultery, lying, and a refusal to forgive, to name but a few examples, are all explicitly condemned. On this basis, we are also free to judge the morality of an action.

The third form of judgement is the judgement of a person who is performing a wrong action. We are free to judge the action, but not the person. Why? Even if someone does something morally wrong, we cannot possibly understand everything that led to that person doing that action. We can’t see into their soul, and we do not know about all of the experiences they might have had to endure. It is concerning judging the person that the Pope says “who am I to judge,” and that Jesus says, “do not judge” – because only God can judge the human heart.

by Dcn Peter Pellicaan

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