The Danger of Judging Others
How many of us think we’re better than some others? Honestly, how many of us have judged someone else, thinking that we’re not like them because we’re better? We condemn others, while we praise ourselves before God!
Let’s take a moment and really think about why and how we judge others?
- - Is it because we think others have done something morally wrong that we judge them? Socially wrong? Or maybe because we question their competence in something?
- - Is it because when we highlight someone else’s weaknesses or failures, we hope that this will make us feel better about ourselves? Or by seeing how others fail, it justifies our own actions and makes us feel OK that we do the same thing?
- - Or is it simply because we don’t like them! We are much more inclined to judge and condemn someone we don’t like than someone who is a friend, or someone like ourselves
Think about how often we make a mistake, make a poor decision, or consciously sin and turn away from what we know is right, and then justify our behavior – maybe because we’re tired, or maybe because something happened that put us in a bad mood and that’s why we made a poor decision, or simply maybe because we think “we’re human” and everyone does this once in a while. We may act rudely or hurt someone or do something that is clearly against what we believe as Christians, and yet we justify our own actions, while at the same time judging others in a harsh manner for doing exactly the same thing.
Christ is so clear in his famous Sermon on the Mount: “Do not judge others so that you yourself will not be judged. For with the judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Mt 7:1-2)
Think about all the times we judge others, and then apply a different standard of judgment on ourselves.
Our Lord Jesus goes on to say, “Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not see the plank in your own eye… You hypocrite. First remove the plank from your own eye!” (Mt 7:3,5) We all have planks we need to focus on, in our own hearts and in our minds.
In the Gospel of John, Christ stated, “Do not judge according to appearances, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Yet, who among us dares to believe that we are righteous enough in the eyes of God to judge another?
Of course, maybe some of us, deep down, do think we are good enough or righteous enough to judge others. This is precisely where the Pharisee, in today’s Gospel story, failed before God! Think about how the Gospel described this “righteous” religious leader. He dedicated his life to following God’s law in a very strict manner. He prayed every day. He fasted twice a week. He gave 10% of his wealth to the Temple. He was careful not to fall into the temptation of greed, of adultery, and of injustice. He surely sounds like a very good man. In fact, his life was probably a lot more righteous and religious, in the best sense of the word, than most of us!!!
Imagine if we had such a person in our church today – one who we knew prayed daily, gave generously, fasted each Wednesday and Friday, and avoided the sins of greed, lust and injustice. Wouldn’t we hold this person up as a model Christian?!? I think we would!!!
Yet it’s precisely here that our “model” Christian fails. And it’s a dangerous precipice we all can fall into! This “righteous and religious” man became judgmental. He looks at someone else – someone who many would consider a scoundrel – and he judges him. The other man is a tax-collector, and we know that tax-collectors worked for the enemy collecting taxes, profited by collecting extra money so that they themselves could become rich. They were often greedy and selfish.
Contrast these two people for a moment – a faithful, generous, prayerful, devout, religious man versus a greedy, rich, and selfish scoundrel. How many of us would honestly think it’s OK for the religious man to judge, and basically reject the scoundrel?!?
This is what happens in the Gospel of today. Yet, Jesus rejects the religious man, and welcomes the scoundrel! Imagine that!!! God rejects the religious man because he allowed his good and faithful actions to get to his head. He became proud. He knew all the good he did, and he came to believe that he was good! And from this proud attitude, he began to judge and despise the other. He undermined all his good intentions and deeds by allowing his pride to lead him astray.
Meanwhile, the scoundrel falls on his face and humbly cries out, “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” A simple, yet sincere prayer saves the scoundrel, while the good deeds of the religious man are ruined by his pride.
I’m not sure if it can get any clearer for all of us, how we should never put ourselves in a position to judge and condemn another.
If we want to walk with another, and repent together, challenging our friends to see their own faults and turn from their stray ways as we also acknowledge our own wayward actions, confess our own sins, and repent from them, then this is not an arrogant judgment of the other, but a humble path walking together on a path of healing. Not judging the other but journeying with the other.
Humility and love are the wings that lead to paradise, St. Kosmas Aitolos proclaimed. We must have love for the other, even for those who have made bad choices and fallen away from God. A humble spirit reminds us that we are the ones who need to repent and turn back towards God. We never judge others, but we judge ourselves. No matter how many good things we have done, we realize we are only fulfilling the potential that God has given us. All good is from God, not us. And all glory goes to His Name! This is what keeps us humble.
This Gospel story of the Pharisee and the Tax-Collector marks the beginning of the Triodion Period, the three-week preparation leading up to Clean Monday, the beginning of Great Lent. The Church consciously chose this Gospel story to highlight the spirit with which we should begin Great Lent on March 2nd. In fact, this Gospel shows us the only spirit that will allow us to journey closer towards God - only with a spirit of humility and love can we go forward. We must cast aside any arrogant spirit within us, reject any temptation to judge and despise others, and not deceive ourselves into trusting our own goodness. “God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This is the spiritual battle we embark on as we begin Great Lent.
And Jesus concluded this story by saying, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and everyone who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
The Danger of Judging Others
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The Orthodox Church: An Introduction