Judge Not? (Part 1) Merciful Judge
Pope Francis launched a thousand speculations when he quipped ‘who am I to judge?’ in response to a journalist’s questions about persons with same-sex attraction, including Catholic clergy men. I cannot interpret Francis’ exact meaning here. But I know that in our increasingly gay-friendly climate, his words have become only too familiar. In many Christian circles, the believer who challenges the moral goodness of gay identity, practice, and marriage is usually shrugged off with a ‘who I am to judge?’, as if that statement itself marked its proclaimer as profoundly loving.
The paradox: many who refuse ‘to judge’ homosexuality can be shrill and dismissive toward persons who disagree with them–quick to pronounce grave judgments on those who have a problem with gay behavior. For example, a devout friend of mine has been trounced by her Catholic family for her refusal to bless a family member’s lesbian relationship. In truth she has sought the much harder road of loving both parties actively while not shifting the boundary lines of what she knows is God’s best for human relating.
To be sure, Jesus makes a big deal about not judging others wrongfully. Yet He insists we make proper moral judgments by relying upon His mercy and discernment. The Apostle Paul is our patron saint here; he urges us in the Spirit of Jesus to ‘judge those inside the church’ (1Cor 5:12).
So how do we make proper moral judgments without being judgmental? One key: keep first things first–the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That God became flesh in order to break the grip of our moral disorder and to transform us into His own image—that is good news, so stunning in fact that all other considerations must bow before the One who makes all things new.
Becoming ‘judgmental’ in the truly negative sense results from losing this Gospel-centeredness. Losing sight of Him, we become self-reliant and prone to self-justifications. We must defend ourselves—we’re all we’ve got! Self-justified ones tend to judge wrongfully, defensively. That applies as much to liberals as to conservatives. For example, as a ‘lefty’ young man, all I could defend do was defend my ‘gay’ way. I knew no other road, as Jesus was not yet mine.
Mercy alone breaks the bonds of self-justification. Mercy opens up for us a whole new world; it frees us to live out the words of Pope Emeritus Benedict, quoted by Pope Frances in the ‘Joyful Gospel’(EG): ‘Being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea but encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and decisive direction.’
Jesus opens up for us a whole new horizon. He cuts a decisive path for us. He made a way for Divine Love to surpass all other loves that compete for our hearts. United with Him—Jesus our horizon, Jesus our path, Jesus our goal, we begin to become more like Him. Part of the fruit of Christ-likeness is the call and the capacity to make wise moral judgments. Such discernment invites new life for us and for others.
The primary word in the NT for ‘judging’ others is rooted in the noun for judge, or GR krites. The verb ‘to judge’ (GR krino) means to separate one thing from another, to select, choose, examine, or investigate. Judgment in the NT is anchored in the understanding of God as the One who judges absolutely. That has a strong OT precedent as well, and refers to the all-seeing, all-knowing Creator who determines the eternal fate of His creatures based on His complete knowledge of them. God the Judge is the ultimate examiner of human hearts; He is thus the only One qualified to separate the wheat from tares, sheep from goats, saved from unsaved.
‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to what his deeds deserve…’ (Jer. 17:10)
‘Since you call upon a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here with reverent fear.’ (1P 1:17)
Jesus defines Himself as one with the Father in judgment: ‘My Father…has entrusted all judgment to the Son. He has given the Son authority to judge because He is the Son of Man.’ (JN 5: 22, 27)
These verses and many others make clear that only the Creator–Father and Son–have power to determine the eternal fate of His creatures. Glory Alleluia! That frees us by forbidding us from judging others’ ultimate fates. Clearly a divine call…