I’ve spent a long while looking very carefully through the Scriptures, particularly the four Gospels, for the place where it tells us without equivocation that as Christians, we are to judge, complain and condemn. Alas, I was not able to find what I was looking for.
I did find rather a lot of passages which counselled a meek and humble approach toward others, one filled with loving compassion, so that we are better able to reflect something of the Lord in whose Name we profess to act. Of course, that cannot possibly be what we are actually being asked to do – it’s just too, well, Christian. This surely has to be some kind of spoof admonition in the Gospel, rather than what we are called to be. Surely.
We wonder why the Churches are emptying. Part of the reason is – unfortunately – us. We tend to be the worst possible advert for Christianity broadly and for Catholicism in particular. All too often, our way of looking at others is through eyes filled with condescension, diminishment and exclusion – we see nothing of the hypocrisy of professing one thing whilst doing the opposite. It’s that Gospel log we will have heard of at Mass, fixed firmly in our eye and blinding us to our own grand faults, even as we castigate everyone else around us for far lesser imperfections. The Lord dined with sinners – we, on the other hand, want to expel and to crucify them.
Judge not; and you will not be judged (Mt.7:1)
This line from the Gospel of Saint Matthew continues – “For as you judge, so will you be judged.” We find something of an echo of this simple and absolutely crucial sentiment within the Lord’s own prayer, the Our Father – where it says “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”. The important word here is “as”. This single little word asks God for one thing – to judge us AS WE JUDGE OTHERS. If we do not judge them, we will not be judged – does that sound familiar? However, if we judge others harshly, without mercy or compassion – that is exactly how we will find ourselves judged.
If you doubt this, then read again the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, which is found in Matthew 18:21-35. It is the Lord’s reply when Peter asks how we should forgive others. The Lord ends by quoting the Master speaking to the servant – “Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?”
Parables such as these are not simply nice stories or easy ways to fill the pages of the Gospels – they are lessons for me, for you and for every one of us. We are supposed to take them to heart, learn from them, and then live them out in our daily lives. They are intended to change us, to transform us, so that we look just a little bit more like Christ – in other words, to make us better and more authentic Christians.
The thing is, our world and our culture do not like meekness, charity and authentic Christianity – they far prefer to thrive on judgement, the harsher the better. This is the era of outrage, of silencing those with whom we disagree, of calling for the expulsion of those who speak out of line and swim against the tide.
Christians have a particular skill for doing this, it seems to me – and with a particular venom when it comes to fellow Christians. The little screens of our electronic devices are filled with social media and this feeds on division, acrimony, judgement and instant opinions. No need for consideration, prudence or anything else – simply judge, as quickly and as viciously as possible. After all, everyone else is doing it.
None of this is Christian. The Gospel makes that abundantly clear. Nothing the Gospel tells us ought to come as any great surprise – our conscience alone should already have warned us against such behaviour and its deeply un-Christian nature.
Take a moment today.
Look very carefully at who and what you are reading, watching or listening to and ask yourself some prudent questions; do these voices unite or do they divide? Do they reach out to others in tenderness, or in judgement? And then look at how you yourself engage with other – does it reflect Christ? Or does it better reflect someone far darker?
Pause and reflect.
And, if necessary – change.