March: Matthew 13; Luke 8; 13
One of the clearest messages of the mission of Jesus Christ, along with “Repent!” and “Forgive!” is “Judge not!.” (try counting how many times the Savior says this…I lost count, but it was a lot). Who is the Lord ordering NOT TO JUDGE? Jesus is talking to the same people he is telling to repent and to forgive – he is talking to me and to you. He is warning us that we will be judged as we judge others and advising we would be better off refraining from passing judgment on anybody. “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again.” Matt 7 1-5
The Joseph Smith Translation modifies this injunction saying “… Judge not unrighteously, that ye be not judged: but judge righteous judgment.” This may seem to give some wiggle room for our judgey instincts to find a place…but I don’t think so.
When Jesus is presented in the Temple courtyard with a woman supposedly caught in the act of adultery, he is asked by the scribes and Pharisees if the law of Moses should be exercised in this instance. He responds silently, writing in the dust. When the accusers persist, Jesus says to them: “He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone at her.” (John 8:1-8) Scribes and Pharisees they may be, but none is willing to be the first to cast a stone when it’s put like that. If we are as honest as the scribes and Pharisees (and we have been told that our righteousness will have to exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and the Pharisees if we want part in the kingdom of heaven) (Matt 5:20,) we must be VERY careful not to judge others without demonstrating humility and transparency when it comes to our own sins. As it says in the song, “When we look at ourselves, We will look at others differently.” ( Put your hand in the hand of the man from Galilee.)
The older I get, the more clearly I see the many ways that we, with our mortal limitations, do not see clearly to judge others. “…how canst thou say to thy brother (or sister,) Sister, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:42.) This is a circular problem…we don’t often recognize the beams in our own eyes so it may be difficult for us to cast them out. This challenge of recognizing the beams in our own eyes can be facilitated by the process of forgiveness. But that is another blog post. In most cases, if we are honest, we simply do not have the tools or information to pass righteous judgment. We should be grateful the Lord has liberated us from the responsibility of judgment, enjoining us rather to feed, to love and to forgive all those around us. If we set about to forgive, feed and embrace everyone with kindness and respect, rather than judgment and criticism, we can be assured we will be treated in the same way. It’s a nice incentive.
Forgiving, feeding and embracing everyone is a tall order – but an emotionally healing approach for all involved. During his ministry on earth, we see Jesus repeatedly reaching out to those perceived as outcasts, sinners and untouchables with physical healing, kindness and forgiveness – transforming their lives. Tax collectors, lepers, women accused of adultery, foreigners, the maimed, the blind, and beggars, are received, embraced, comforted and healed by the Savior of all humankind.
It is an example that requires a radical revision of our unhealed human nature…we are counseled to, “turn the other cheek,” “give our coats as well as our cloaks,” and “walk the extra mile” … or two…, with those who have asked our help for one mile. We are even advised in Luke 6 to just let people who steal from us, keep whatever they took, “Give to everyone that asketh of thee; and if one taketh away thy goods, don’t ask that the goods be returned again.” (Luke 6;30) We ponder the parables of the good Samaritan and the Prodigal son…hoping we will not be recognized as the priest who rushes to get to Church, passing by on the other side of the suffering, injured Samaritan, nor the obedient and offended elder brother who is righteously indignant that his erring sibling is welcomed home with celebration and joy, jealous that he is not adequately celebrated himself.
But what of the repeated instances in the chapters we are considering in these next few weeks, where Jesus expresses profound frustration, even anger with, and warns of dire consequences for those “righteous, faithful, godly” Pharisees and Sadducees who perpetually question His motives and the source of His power to heal or to forgive.
Though we are not invited to JUDGE as Jesus clearly does judge these pride filled, self-righteous religious leaders, we are given to consider a series of encounters in which Jesus… as He blesses and heals the sick and broken hearted… is belittled, and even accused of treachery. His words, his deeds of miraculous healing, and the scripturally supported explanations of His glorious mission to teach us about God are ignored.
He does not respond with tender compassion to these accusers. Instead, He warns repeatedly that they will face more serious repercussions than the sinners of Sodom, Gomorrah or Ninevah if they persist in their efforts to undermine the message of salvation Jesus is bringing to His people. Jesus warns these supercilious judges in Israel that they have failed to understand Moses, whose laws they are convinced they obey fastidiously. Clearly they don’t honor or understand Moses because they don’t recognize one of Moses’ most important teachings: that Jesus would come. The self important arbiters of the Mosaic law do not recognize the fulfillment of Moses’ most important prophetic pronouncement. These revered representatives of the religiously devout in that society chose to ignore and denigrate both Jesus and His message. He, in turn, does not mince words as He calls them out for hypocrisy, pride and prejudice and reminds them repeatedly that their fathers maligned the prophets they now revere and enshrine.
In Matthew 11:16-24 the judgment of God is firmly laid out by God himself. Let’s just begin in Matthew 11:20-24,
” Then he began to upbraid the cities wherein most of his mighty works were done, because they repented not:
Woe unto thee Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for it the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and in ashes.
But I say it shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which are exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to Hell: for if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.”
These were not mild words of reprimand, nor did they imply any easy path to reprieve. Jesus was excoriating those considered the most righteous, God-fearing folk in society. But they’d gotten it wrong. Terribly wrong. Many now stood in God’s presence on earth, they saw His miraculous healing power, heard His gracious words of forgiveness and love ….and not only dared to doubt, but also rose to rebuke Him and His followers. He had little tolerance for that kind of prideful hypocrisy.
His kind words were for those who did the hard labor, bore the heavy burdens of supporting the more privileged and who were often misled by a focus on the form rather than the substance of obedience to God’s laws. “Blessed are the poor…Blessed are they that mourn…blessed are the meek….blessed are they which do hunger and thirst…” (Matt 5;3-6.) He had words of warning for those who had a better deal in this world: “ Woe unto you who are rich! For ye have received your consolation. Woe unto you who are full! For you shall hunger. Woe unto you who laugh now! For you shall mourn and weep. Woe unto you when all men shall speak well of you! For so did their fathers to the false prophets.” Luke 6:24-26
” Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.
For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 12:28-30
It seems paradoxical that Jesus, who exhorts his followers not to judge, boldly judges His proud and prominent detractors, criticizing uncompromisingly those who aggressively dismiss the power of his presence and person. But because Jesus is the great Jehovah, because he does see perfectly and clearly…he and only he is in a position to make righteous judgment. Jesus who simultaneously appeals to the humble and heavy laden…likening Himself to the meek and lowly in heart, promises that as they learn of Him and come unto Him, he will lighten their burdens and yoked with Him their burdens will become light and easy to bear…this is what Jared Halverson likes to call a “contrary.” Confounded by this curious combination when I was searching for truth at the age of 18, I was prompted to find out for myself who this Jesus really was.
Recently, one of our 12 year old grandsons gave up his time with buddies at a big Scout shindig to help a fellow scout in need. The recipient of this sacrificial act of service was, in return, rude and derisive. The feeling of hurt and confusion came home with our selfless young scout. But it dissolved as he understood that the Savior both suffered such indignities repeatedly and promised those who were persecuted for righteousness’ sake that they could, and even should, rejoice and be exceedingly glad, ” for thus persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”
On the pages of Matthew, Luke, Mark and John…as you study them deeply….you will find the words to comfort, guide and respond with power to the challenges not only you, but also those you love, confront daily. Take this opportunity to steep yourself in these words of eternal life. They will also prepare you to live and share this life with greater confidence, peace and joy at every turn.