Matthew 7:1 is one of the most oft-cited of all Bible verses: “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Nonchurchgoers love to apply it to busy schedules, backbiters and betrayers to behavior they’d rather keep shrouded. And those who excel at judging will tell you how often the verse gets yanked out of context. For the sake of context, notice that, according to Matthew, Jesus follows up this exhortation with a less-quoted gem: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” (v. 6) How would that one go over on social media?
In a larger context (the whole chapter), you find a world-famous sentence: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But you also find bracing rebukes of hypocrisy, duplicity, audacity and a dearth of perspicacity. “Why do you call me Lord and don’t do what I say?” Whatever else this judgmental attitude may be, it appears to have nothing to do with spinelessness or an unwillingness to confront.
The word, itself, of course, means to sit in the seat of a judge and pronounce judgments on those around you. So would you consider Judge Judy, that no-nonsense dispenser of justice, a judgmental soul? Or what about Dr. Phil McGraw, who still draws viewers in droves who wait to see him dismantle, then offer help to, another deluded soul? Are compassion and conviction strange bedfellows?
In the gospels, the judgmental spirit amounts to a mode of both self-exaltation and self-protection. “You see us the way you want to see us – in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions.” It also defies everything church mothers and fathers have said over and over about the core of genuine spirituality. “God blesses those people who are humble. The earth belongs to them!” (Matthew 5:5).
The Rev. Eugene Stockstill is pastor of Ebenezer United Methodist Church and Myrtle United Methodist Church in Union County.