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The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged.” With those words, today’s gospel lesson calls us to show all others the same grace we want all others to show us, by being as judgeless toward others as we want others to be judgeless toward us; which places “Do not judge, and you will not be judged,” in a wider Bible orbit with Romans 14:13, “Let us no longer pass judgement on one another,” James 4:12, “Who are you to judge your neighbor?”, John 8:7, “Let anyone who is without sin cast the first stone,” and Matthew 7:13, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”; a chorus of Bible verses, and voices, all of which call us to be as judgeless toward others as we want others to be judgeless toward us.
And yet, in this life, there are judgements which we must make; not about people, which is God’s work to do, but about dangerous and destructive words and actions, harmful and hurtful systems and symbols, and unjust and oppressive policies and practices.
A life with no judgements would be a life which is not angered by the injustices about which all Christians should be angry. Sometimes, the only way we can stand up for the same people Jesus would stand up for, is by standing up against the same injustices Jesus would stand up against.
Take, for example, the Quakers; among the first to call for the abolition of slavery, because they made the judgement that slavery was sin. Or, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who helped lead a resistance movement against Hitler, because he made the judgement that anti-Semitism was sin. And, our own Medgar Evers and Vernon Dahmer, calling for equality under the law for all persons, because they made the judgement that discrimination was sin.
All of which is to say that when today’s gospel lesson says “Do not judge,” it doesn’t relieve us of the responsibility of making real judgements; not about people, which is God’s responsibility, but about hurtful and harmful words and actions, which is our responsibility.
Needless to say, every personal failing, reckless moment and careless word does not need to be confronted or judged. Rather, it is those truly dangerous and destructive, harmful and hurtful words and actions, systems and symbols, policies and practices which need to be confronted, so that they can be changed.
It is our responsibility to make those kinds of judgements, while also being judgeless about people, because making judgements about people is God’s job, but making judgements about hurtful and harmful words and actions is our job.
To be judgeless, while making judgements, may sound impossible; and, might be impossible, if there were no Holy Spirit at work in our lives. But, because there is the Holy Spirit, it is completely possible for us to make clear judgements about hurtful words and actions, while also being as judgeless toward the persons behind those words and actions as we want them to be judgeless toward us.
In fact, in my experience, if we walk in the Spirit prayerfully enough, for long enough, the judgeless life of clear judgements we once found impossible to live, we will, eventually, find impossible not to live. Our moral compass will eventually become so clear that it will not allow us to remain unbothered by, neutral toward or silent about the abuses, inequities and injustices which bring hurt and harm to others, while our gentleness will grow so deep and our kindness so wide that we will make those judgements, which must be made, judgelessly.