The Bible is the most hotly debated and influential book of all time. Christians vehemently disagree with one another about what the Bible says or doesn’t say, which Biblical laws are eternally proscriptive and which are eternally defeasible, and what the Bible actually means and who gets to decide.
But even apart from these debates, there are a lot of blank spaces in the Bible, places where lack of knowledge has led readers and interpreters to supply extraneous and erroneous information.
This week, we continue our Sunday message series that we are calling, Bible Oddities. In this series, we are looking at some common misinterpretations in the Bible. Last week, we examined the proper meaning of Paul’s statement in his Letter to the Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (4:13). As we discovered, Paul was not suggesting that he or other Christians receive supernatural protection from hardships and difficulties, but rather that, even in danger, he will rely on God for strength.
Today, we dive into another popular, but often misused and misquoted, verse in the New Testament. In Matthew 7:1, Jesus instructs his followers to avoid judgment. “Do not judge,” he says, “and you will not be judged.” But this statement is not meant to be treated as a blanket statement against all forms of judgment, as if we are to mind our own business and never get involved in the lives of those around us. Instead, Jesus is warning us against hypocrisy. Do not judge others as if you have the authority of someone who is perfect.
The basic meaning of the Greek word, to judge, is krino, which means “to set apart so as to distinguish or separate.” So the command, “Do not judge,” cannot prohibit all critical judgments. What Jesus is referring to is the kind of judgmental attitude that springs up among people in a community or in some families, where some members are very picky and no one is quite good enough to please them. These people act as if they have the spiritual gift of criticism.
If you look more carefully at the verse, you will see that we are not prohibited from discerning sin or problems in our brothers and sisters, or even seeking to correct them. But we must examine ourselves first to make sure nothing in us prevents us from seeing the situation clearly. Then, and only then, can we see clearly enough to remove the speck from our brother’s or sister’s eye.
Therefore, we should not close our eyes and pretend not to notice evil out of fear of being perceived as judgmental. While Jesus condemns hypocritical judgments, he nevertheless encourages rational ones. God formed the Church for community, accountability and honesty. We must be able to help one another when we make good and corrective judgments.
--Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
Father Roger Gustafson