Jesus, the Judgmental

They metaphorically wag their fingers at someone expressing concern about a recent cultural trend that shifts us further away from biblical standards. They then reference what may be one of the few Bible verses they can quote. “Didn’t Jesus, himself, say, ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’?” Sometimes, whoever invokes this verse (Matthew 7:1 – part of the Sermon on the Mount) sees it as the “touché” that is supposed to shame the “judger” into silence.

Yanking verses out of context encourages dubious interpretations or applications. In the very same chapter that records this admonition to not judge, Jesus slips in a few pretty “judgy-sounding” things:

·         Only a few will find the narrow road that leads to salvation (verse 13-14). Implication:  most people won’t “make it.”

·         He calls people who don’t do God’s will “evildoers” who will be excluded from the kingdom (verses 21-23).

·         Anyone who fails to heed his words faces ruin (verses 21-27).

But wait! There’s more! It’s not that Jesus woke up on the wrong side of the bed on the day he delivered the Sermon on the Mount. We see the same theme of judgement in nearly half his parables. By my count, out of Jesus’ 40 parables, 18 involved judgement, including:

·         The vineyard tenants who rebelled against the landowner, ultimately killing his son (Mark 12:1-11)

·         Being entrusted with talents and either investing them or burying them (Luke 19:12-27)

·         The rich fool who was not rich toward God and tore down his barns to store all his riches (Luke 12:16-21)

And within the 18 “judgment parables,” fully 10 are “dualistic” where they specify two groups:   those who do it right, and those who don’t.  Here are just a few:

·         The sheep and the goats – those who either care for God’s people or don’t (Matthew 25:31-46)

·         Two sons, one of whom said he would do his father’s will but didn’t, and the other who initially said he wouldn’t but changed his mind and ultimately complied (Matthew 21:28-32)

·         The Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14)

Beyond these teachings, look at Jesus’ scathing denouncement of the Pharisees and teachers of the law (Matthew 23:13-39) where he calls them hypocrites, blind guides, whitewashed tombs, and a brood of vipers. Not exactly “Jesus, Meek and Mild” who never called people out when they violated God’s standards.

If those who criticize Christians for speaking up on social issues were to apply the same standard to Jesus himself, they would be forced to label him judgmental.  The problem is that, in the way they apply “Do not judge, or you too will be judged,” they are conflating the different “dimensions” of judgment:

1.      God judging me as an individual

2.      God holding societies accountable for their collective practices

3.      Me judging someone else as an individual

4.      Me communicating my understanding of how God’s standards should affect society

Jesus’ prohibition in Matthew 7:1 relates to #3 – Me judging an individual.  It fits perfectly with the rest of the Sermon the Mount which addresses my personal behavior, character, and even inner thoughts. Matthew 7:1 does not disqualify me from speaking to #4.

We should not take a confrontational approach when people hijack nine of Jesus’ words to support their social positions. Instead, we should humbly and gently point them to a more nuanced understanding of judgment and Jesus’ charge to his followers – also in the Sermon on the Mount – to be the light of the world.