This blog is the fourth in a series which sets out behaviours that were displeasing to Jesus.
Jesus’ prohibition of standing in judgement on others comes astonishingly in the midst of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, a collection of Jesus’ commandments, in which he passes wise judgements on human behaviour! Obviously the commandment against judging cannot mean any vagueness about morality, since Jesus was so shrewd about the actions and motives of people.
Luke, who used the same material as Matthew, adds the word ‘condemn’ as an explanation of what Jesus was getting at. Both authors, however, present Jesus condemning religious leaders for their hypocrisy. So is Jesus saying that it’s OK for him to judge, but wrong for anyone else? We should be able to see the difference between a strict code of conduct, which can be used to criticise behaviour including one’s own, and the kind of moral arrogance which condemns another person as wicked or beyond the pale. This sort of judging permits the judge to take pleasure in his superiority to the offender. Simone Weil wrote passionately about the arrogance of upper class judges in courts, passing their polished denunciations of the wretch in the dock.
Most people disagree with Jesus on this one, believing that the exposure of wrong -doing and the castigation of the wrongdoer is not only satisfying to the person doing it, but also to the one watching as a spectator. The popular press is full of such judgements on public figures and private citizens alike. The report of a serious crime for example is rarely complete without characterising the offender as an “animal”, “monster” or especially in the case of sexual crime, “beast.”
It is a matter of concern that this sort of standing in judgement has entered our politics, so that your opponent is not simply mistaken but evil; and therefore not only to be defeated but despised morally, and if possible, humiliated. This attitude allows you as judge to see yourself as virtuous and therefore entitled to humiliate the opponent. If the opponent has the audacity to suggest that you are, for example, lying, this automatically makes you a virtuous victim, so justifying your rage and your vengeance.
In family life and amongst colleagues the position of the one entitled to pass judgement is eagerly sought by some, with the kind of results one can view on twitter and facebook. Although dangerous, this vast, vulgar display of condemnation is by no means as serious as the cold arrogance of those who know they judge on God’s behalf and have not hesitated across the continents and centuries to condemn their fellow human beings to death, as indeed the Pharisees did to Jesus.
Jesus issued a particularly harsh warning to those who stand in judgement: the merciful God will abandon his own measure of human behaviour and use the measure employed by the judge! The justice of God may be able to overlook most of our wrongdoing but not our merciless arrogance.