The Words of Jesus
Consider Jesus' words from the Gospel of Matthew: 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.
What is Jesus saying? Are we not to judge people at all or is it in the way that we judge people? As always, it is important to go back to the world in which Jesus lived in order to get a better understanding of what He was speaking about since He was in fact speaking to people who had a particular worldview at that time.
According to William Barclay, the idea of judging people favorably was an idea that was well known by the Jews in Jesus' time. Rabbis were known to remind the people that, He who judges his neighbor favorably will be judged favorably by God. Barclay even goes as far as stating that to judge a person in this way was not only thoughtful or considerate but also a sacred duty. Aside from these points Barclay also imparts the words of the famous Rabbi Hillel the Elder who said: Do not judge a man until you yourself have come into his circumstances or situation. Barclay also reminds us that we may never know the whole facts or the whole person so how can we possibly know the heart of the matter.
Such an idea is really important in the world that we live in today. So many people face big decisions that certainly challenge their morality. Further, what happens when that person is filled with fear or despair as they may face the possibility of rejection or in today's social media filled world, the possibility of public slander? We ask what would Jesus do but in this case I would ask what would a person filled with brokenness do? And, how do we know that we wouldn't do the same thing?
I am not condoning sin or dismissing a person's responsibility for their actions. Even the Lord, who showed love and mercy did not condone sinful behavior. This is why He would tell the sinner to: Go and sin no more (John 8:11). Yes, Jesus did accept everyone but He did not dismiss any form of unacceptable behavior. However, He was able to show his love and mercy to each sinner because He could see the the cause of the sin, which usually comes from some form of suffering.
This is why Pope Francis reminds us that mercy is a verb because it is something we have to show the person. As I tell my students from my own guilty moments of dealing with those who have wronged me in the past: Many times we expect others to forgive us almost immediately when we will turn around and hold a grudge towards those who have wronged us. This is why Pope Francis' words hit me hard when he says: We cannot meditate on mercy without turning it into action. In honoring the words of our Holy Father we also put into action God's command to love our neighbor. Of course, that is not always easy to do and one of many reasons we need God's grace to get us through this life.
Good theology recognizes that a truthful teaching isn't just looking at the whole passage but also the whole chapter with particular attention being paid to the order of what Jesus says in the Gospels. this is why we need so speak on the issue of privacy. Notice in the chapter that precedes Jesus talking about judging others He not talks about prayer but how personal prayer is to be done in private (Matthew 6:6-7). Aside from the fact that prayer is supposed to be done in private we are also told not to babble with our words because our Father in heaven already knows what we need before we ask Him. Now, why is this so important?
The first thing that comes to mind is Eucharistic Adoration. Yes, there are prayers that we say and songs that we sing as a community and we already know the importance of community prayer (Matthew 18:20). Still, there are also prayers that we are encouraged to say in the silence of our own hearts. We are also encouraged with sit with the Lord; to simply be in His presence. If you look carefully, this form of prayer allows us to look to the Lord as Abba, our daddy, as such things that we would say at this point are very personal and certainly similar to the memories that many of us have doing the same thing with our loving fathers.
Those who have been devoted to this practice for an extended length of time speak of the graces they receive simply by being open to what they Lord has to share with them; or as Jesus already said, Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. How would any father know what their child needs? Due to the intimate time spent with his child as such time would allow the father to grow closer to their child. This is why I would recommend you look at these beautiful quotes given to us by many of the Church's greatest saints when it comes to Eucharistic Adoration as we not only get the chance to grow closer to our God but also to our Abba in heaven: https://www.catholic.sg/10-quotes-on-eucharistic-adoration-from-the-saints/
Keep in mind that our experience of being judged could also be during our prayer time. Yes, our Father in heaven already knows what we need but Jesus did not comment on when or how he would address those needs. With my own children, I speak to them during private conversations about things that they have done wrong but I make sure to speak to them carefully so they can continue to trust me and so that they know that my intent to correct them is to help them be better people and not just to scold them. To restate Luke 11:13: (If I with my sins know what do give my children) how much more will the Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?
We need to take that same attitude to those that have wronged us and Jesus has in fact showed us the way.
In Matthew 18:15 Jesus says: If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother. This would be something that require a certain level of respect and maturity between the two people in conflict because the offending brother would have to both listen and then take responsibility for what they did. Of course this would not be a problem for two people who not only love their neighbor but strive to be perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect. In terms of the time period in which Jesus stated this, such an idea was not foreign to someone trying to live as a good Jew. Take these words from Leviticus 19:17-18. You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.
Again, mercy is a verb and in doing something that is difficult we show both love and mercy. It also discourages us from carrying the burden of resentment and hatred, which is not easy because our humanity will not prevent us from the fear, anger and distrust that comes from being wrong by another. That is why we must remind ourselves of our need for the grace of God in order to live as He wishes also knowing that our heavenly Father will give us what we need so long as we are open to His grace.
This would certainly imply that the harboring of grudges and even gossip have been with us since the beginning of time. However, now we live in a day and age where people have access to even more ways of communicating. However it's done, consider this brilliant sermon from the movie Doubt: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sp6rVrGmvMs
Now, what if we are dealing with someone who will not take that high road as the brother that we have won over? Consider Jesus' words from Matthew 18:16: If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.
Of course the character and intent of these witnesses must be pleasing in the eyes of God so the offending brother does not feel attacked. Perhaps multiple witnesses will present a clearer picture of what occurred as everyone has their own way of seeing such events. With that being said, perhaps this more expanded vision of the events will help everyone have a clear understanding of what happened between everyone involved and not just the person who was offended.
Sadly, the conflict could go into further gridlock, which Jesus addresses in Matthew 18:17 with the following words: If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.
For many this seems like a later insertion into the Gospel rather than something that Jesus actually said because the church had yet to be established. However, this could still be reflective of what Jesus intended for the church while also being something that both Jesus and the apostles were aware of in terms of what was practiced by the leaders of their time.
Take for example the Sanhedrin. Although their accusations against Jesus were said to have come from false witnesses (Mark 14:56) it doesn't mean that their method was totally flawed.The Sanhedrin was made up of 71 members including the High Priest at the time as well as some priests and aristocrats. The religious leaders were very well versed in the law but the interesting thing about such leaders is that their differing backgrounds also meant that some of them had different traditions in terms of how to interpret the law. In other words, it is almost impossible for anyone to be impartial in judging anyone, which is why it would be best to have the case reviewed by several individuals.
Hopefully in most cases the Sanhedrin or any respected body of people for that matter could offer a reasonable judgment on the case that would satisfy everyone involved. Of course in today's world people have opinions on so many things but it doesn't serve us well if we only interact with people who have a similar worldview. We need to be challenged in the way that we look at persons under suspicion because that is when we find out just how much we love our neighbor. In most cases, this can only be done if we welcome input from those who have a different worldview.
Of course there are those who think only of themselves who would refuse to resolve any conflict regardless of the circumstances. Jesus was also aware of this and did not tell His followers to avoid moments when they needed to distance themselves from such people, which in many cases could be for their own safety. Aside from the final part of Matthew 18:17 we also see the Lord speak of what His disciples should do if they encounter such hostilities from a place where they have been preaching (Matthew 10:13-14). The Lord Himself was rejected and had to leave where He was preaching (Luke 4:29-30) so, yes, there are times when you simply have to walk away and hope that something you said or did could plant enough of a seed for such people to reflect on that may sprout at a later time.
Opportunity for True Change
We often don't realize how many struggles or conflicts are in fact gifts because they are opportunities for us to grow in holiness. Sometimes this gift is a moment of self-realization that for many of us is very eye opening. Take for example the following: For years I have told my students that regardless of how one sees the issue of same sex marriage that the whole phenomenon has in fact been a gift to all of us in one specific way: it forced all of us to ask ourselves how we have treated homosexuals through the years. Of course it's easy to assume that those who changed for the better supported the legalization of same sex marriage but such a generalization is quite misleading. There are in fact many who say support the idea of upholding traditional marriage but now treat their homosexual neighbors in ways that they had not prior to that moment of self-reflection. How is that a bad thing?
This is one of many issues that people face on a regular basis. From a young girl faced with the possibility of having an abortion to a teenager lying to a teacher at their school in order to avoid getting in trouble. From an adult who is arrested and accused of a serious crime to a mother whose child has learned a deep secret from her past. We should always take the time to listen to the person's reasons for their struggle and not just their sins. Yes, sin is bad and we should not water down things that are an offense to God. However, if Jesus Himself can come to earth as one of us in order to offer His mercy to those whose actions would be an offense to the Incarnate God then who are we to judge such people harshly rather than in ways to remind them that they are first loved by God as well as by the rest of us? On top of that, imagine the impact on any relationship if the person that the sinner offended was us and yet we still took the time to love them as God wants us to? That is something that would really change the world because we would be acting like our Savior when He forgave those who sent Him to his death (Luke 23:34).
Again, it is a great challenge but nothing is impossible with God (Luke 1:37).
- New American Bible
- Barclay, William. The Gospel of Matthew Volume 1. The Daily Study Bible Series. The Westminster Press Philadelphia 1975
- McKenzie, John L. The Dictionary of the Bible. Macmillan Publishing Co New York. Collier Macmillan Publishers London
- Achtemeir, Paul J. (Chief Editor). Harper's Bible Dictionary. Harper San Francisco
- Perkins, Pheme. Reading the New Testament. Paulist Press New York
BA & MA in Religious Studies from Cal State Long Beach
Cettified through the Theology fo the Body Institute
Co-founder of Humana Corpus Dignitate