Pastor Chris Tweitmann
A week ago, something unexpected happened near the end of the 94th Academy Awards – something made headlines beyond the standard entertainment reporting.
The news involved an altercation between two celebrities over a joke told that caused more offense than laughter.
Physical violence surprisingly resulted. Tears subsequently fell and apologies – to an extent – were made.
No charges were filed, though an investigation has been initiated. And still, the fall out from that shocking moment continues.
From late-night talk show hosts to daily podcasts to the opinion pages of newspapers to the comments of everyday people like you and me posted via social media, this incident has dominated the national, watercooler conversation this past week.
Nearly everyone has weighed on what transpired last Sunday evening. Sides have been taken. Pronouncements have been made. Even suggestions of a conspiracy – it was all staged – have been raised.
I bring this matter up today not to add to the debate about what happened.
What has struck me, what particularly stands out, is how this episode demonstrates how quickly, how readily, how comfortably we tend to be in passing judgment on others – assigning responsibility, assessing blame, and for some, even going so far as condemning those who we deem to be in the wrong.
As we return to the Gospel of Luke, we continue to unpack the longest record message Jesus gives in the gospels – a series of teachings known as the Sermon on the Mount or the Plain.
Jesus just finished instructing his disciples how to love their enemies. To offer mercy, compassion, and grace to the people who treat us badly rather than acting in retaliation.
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” – Luke 6:27 – 31
And now, Jesus turns to those who would follow him and addresses yet another thorny aspect of human relationships.
Namely, our repeated tendency to judge and condemn others.
Let us listen carefully as Jesus is about to reveal not only the problem with judging others but also the danger of doing so as well.
Along the way, Jesus, as always, is going to redirect us both to think and act differently.
To live and engage with each other out of a posture of humble forgiveness rather than one presumptive judgment. (TEXT)
Jesus begins speaking to us by issuing a series of commands.
“Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” – Luke 6:37
The literal translation of his opening words here are: “Stop judging. Stop condemning.”
Let’s begin with a little clarification about what Jesus is talking about.
Jesus in commanding us to stop judging isn’t declaring “Anything goes” – that there is no such thing as right and wrong in this world – that what is good and true versus what is bad and false are whatever each of us decide and make them to be.
Jesus isn’t telling us to refuse making any judgments – to turn a blind eye – and just accept everything we see or hear.
We know this isn’t what Jesus was talking about because in the next part of this sermon – a passage we’ll be looking at in a few weeks – Jesus will tell us to recognize what kind of people we’re dealing with by examine the fruit of their actions, their lives.
“No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.” – Luke 6:43 – 44
Telling the difference between “good” and “bad” fruit requires making a judgment.
So does forgiveness – the counter posture Jesus calls us to take in the opening verse of this passage.
Forgiving someone first necessitates having previously made a judgment that a wrong has been done.
Beyond these examples, the Bible as a whole – but especially the wisdom literature – calls us to be properly discerning as we walk by faith through this life.
In this world, we are surrounded by both good and bad, right and wrong, what is true and what is false, and we need to rely on the Word and the Spirit of God to be able to discern which is which.
What Jesus is addressing then is not about discernment – exercising good judgment – decisions aimed at being wise, making choices that safeguard us from trouble or harm and lead instead to our flourishing.
Jesus is commanding us not to be judgmental. What’s the difference?
Being judgmental is not about seeking to be wise but rather feeling and trying to look superior to others.
Being judgmental is more than forming an opinion or making a decision; it is about passing sentence – making a pronouncement of guilt or shame upon a situation or another person.
But wait a second. Doesn’t Jesus elsewhere direct us, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and tell them their fault?” – Matthew 18:15
Isn’t this being judgmental? Not necessarily.
Biblically, we are each called to be our brother or sister’s keeper – to take care of each other – which includes holding each other accountable and correcting each other as we learn, grow, and mature together.
Notice how Jesus pairs judgment and condemnation together.
Being judgmental is about condemnation rather than reconciliation – not looking to safeguard or protect another person to build them up through accountability or correction but rather seeking to punish and to inflict harm and ultimately tear that person down.
That’s the difference. That’s the distinction of being judgmental. Now that we’ve defined our terms, can we take a moment to confess, how prone we all are towards being and acting judgmental?
Perhaps your initial response right now is “I’m not judgmental.”
Let’s test that theory.
If you are listening today and you assume Jesus is directing his comments here to some other person – and especially if you have in mind who that person is –
if you frequently find yourself making categorical assertions in your mind or even out loud – that those people – anyone who looks, thinks, speaks or acts differently than you do – is completely wrong or totally bad, then you might be the one most in need of hearing what Jesus is saying in this passage.
I’m not judging you. I’m only asking you to consider if maybe today’s word applies to you more than you initially thought.
Because here’s the thing – true of all of us.
Have we ever noticed how easy it is to pass judgment on another, and yet, how very difficult it is to withhold judgment?
As much as we’d love to say we’ve never judged anyone, the human inclination is to make premature assessments of people and jump to conclusions as to their motives and intentions all the time.
For most of us, our default is not to be empathetic or sympathetic when it comes to other people – especially people we don’t know, we don’t like, or to whom we don’t relate.
Instead we tend to be suspicious: “What do you want?” Pessimistic. Cynical: “What’s your angle?” Or worse, downright defensive: “Why are you asking me?”
But our tendency toward judgmentalism goes far beyond when others approach or make a request of us.
Even from a distance, when no engagement has been made, we often sit back and pass judgment on what others say and do – the positions and actions they take.
This past week, in preparation for this message, I attempted to be mindful, to catch myself whenever my thoughts or attitudes toward another person crept into a judgmental stance.
I was shook – humbled – by how easily and how often I found myself reacting negatively – hypercritically – passing judgment on other people’s quirks, opinions, or actions.
Labeling each person in my mind. Casting asperions on them in my heart. Ultimately, condemning them.
And when I probed each of those reactions, I was forced to confront premature assumptions I was making about that person’s character, their motives, or their intent.
More than this, I had to reckon with lay behind all the judgments I was making about others – my sense of superiority over them.
And that’s the seduction of being judgmental, isn’t it?
The feeling of power – of exalting ourselves, the sense of status.
That’s why so many of our conversations, so many of our postings on social media, so much of the content we watch and listen to revolves around ridiculing, insulting, and even condemning the inconsistencies, the failings of public figures.
We may not be perfect – nobody’s perfect – but at least we’re not like them.
We can take some comfort in knowing our opinions, our choices, our actions are better than theirs are.
Playing the comparison game is attractive when we believe we hold all the cards – that we’ve got the winning hand.
That’s why in so many of our relationships with people we barely know and even those closest to us,
we feel the license to give unsolicited and unwelcome advice, to always begin with a critique before offering a compliment, to passively aggressively implying, and perhaps even dogmatically insisting why our point of view, our way of doing things is the right way, is the only way.
And yet Jesus cautions us to stop living like this.
Jesus begins with a command against but then moves quickly to offering a series of successive pictures centered around the image of the eye.
Jesus humorously designs this verbal Powerpoint presentation to reflect the problem with living from a judgmental posture.
The most famous, the most memorable of these images is the one of the person who becomes fixates upon the speck of sawdust in their brother’s eye all the while being oblivious to the plank of wood sticking out of their own eye.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 42 How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” – Luke 6:41 – 42
Engaging in a bit of hyperbole – exaggeration to underscore a point – Jesus calls out the blatant hypocrisy of living out of a place of moral superiority.
The comedian George Carlin wryly observes a universal rule of the road. Everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot. And everyone who drives faster than you is a maniac.
To the speeding driver, everyone’s an idiot. To the slow driver, everyone’s a maniac. But one rule applies to all: My speed is always just right.
One of the problem with being judgmental is living under a false assumption
– that we are good and everyone else is bad.
– that we are right and everyone else is wrong.
However, one of the foundational premises of the Gospel is we are all sinners alike – broken, flawed, imperfect people in desperate need of the grace of God.
This means we always start in our engagement with others from a place of humility – of recognizing our common flaw – sin.
The problem with being judgmental is the person who sets him/herself up as a judge and jury of another person’s imperfections is also imperfect.
Notice Jesus doesn’t deny people have failings. But Jesus invites me to look to my own blind spots first.
When we do this – willingly and honestly confront our own flaws and faults – we will find ourselves less willing to claim the moral high ground and more inclined to recognize we stand before God on equal footing with the person we are judging and condemning.
And if our motivation is sincerely to coming alongside our brother or sister who’s line of sight is marred by a speck of sawdust, as Jesus notes, we can’t help them unless we admit and receive the help, the grace from God we need first.
This leads to the second problem with being judgmental.
If none of us have a problem turning to another person and seeing their flaws and faults, but all of us have a lot of problem owning up to our own shortcomings and faults, then we need to be careful of, as Jesus notes, “The blind leading the blind.”
“He also told them this parable: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into a pit? The student is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully trained will be like their teacher.” – Luke 6:39 – 40
What Jesus is teasing out is how judgmentalism compromises our ability to lead and to help others.
When I am blind to my own flaws and failings – my need for God’s grace – then I have no business trying to guide others.
In fact, in holding onto to my judgmentalism, in refusing to see myself clearly – I am dangerous – liable to cause another harm rather than to help them – leading us both into a pit of despair.
This is why confession and repentance aren’t one time actions we undertake when we first come to Christ.
Confession and repentance are ongoing postures we adopt – they are part of our daily practice of abiding Jesus – so that we are given eyes to see where and how the Word and the Spirit is stretching and empowering us to grow in grace.
When regular confession and repentance are practices we neglect, then we will gradually return to a mindset of self-reliance – not allowing Christ to reveal himself through our weakness but asserting a false perception of our strength apart from Jesus.
And once we go there, once we return to living out of a sense of self-importance and self-sufficiency – of playing God – judging and condemning others inevitably will follow.
Snoopy was sitting on the roof of his doghouse. Charlie Brown came up and said, “I hear you’re writing a book on theology. I hope you have a good title.”
Snoopy replied, “I have the perfect title.” Then he leaned over his typewriter and typed, “Has It Ever Occurred to You That You Might Be Wrong?”
Oftentimes we limit our ability or the ability of others to help, to lead in a situation of need because of our flaws and failures.
But something important that needs to be made clear from what Jesus teaches us here is – flaws and failures do not disqualify anyone’s ability to help or to lead.
What compromises, what excludes anyone’s viability in helping or leading others is choosing to remain blind – being unwilling to see one’s flaws, to own one’s failures, and submit them to Christ.
Holding onto to judgmentalism contributes to the inherent problem of this world.
This is Jesus’ third observation when he speaks of measures and their effect of pouring over into everything else.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38
Our judgments of others are compromised by both our lack of self-knowledge – our inability and our unwillingness to truly see ourselves, AND the limits of our knowledge and understanding of all things because we are not God.
When, despite all of this, we persist in being judgmental – in playing God – we add to the brokenness and separation in our lives rather than becoming agents of healing and reconcilation.
All our misjudgments and bad judgments neither right wrongs or bring us closer together.
No, judgmentalism, in setting us up to interact with people in false ways – creates lasting stereotypes and entrenched prejudices.
Labels once attached to us – as individuals and as groups – that become hard to remove or get beyond.
The judgments of others can affect we think about ourselves – unwittingly pressuring us to live according to their assessment of who we are rather than who God created us to be in Christ.
Judging others also can provokes the retaliation of counter-judgment.
When we perceive we are being judged and condemned, we fight back by putting someone else in the dock – pointing the finger and accusing them.
Judgmentalism inevitably leads to finding and branding a scapegoat.
Someone we can lord over and dominate. Someone we can blame for all our problems and the troubles of this world.
But Jesus pulles no punches, Jesus soberly warns us, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
In choosing to remain judgmental, we only judge ourselves. In choosing to condemn others, we only condemn ourselves.
In choosing to be judgmental and condemn others, we pull away from, we deny, we cut ourselves off from the grace God seeks to lavish upon us and impart through us to others.
The answer to the problem of judgmentalism isn’t complicated.
It isn’t a mystery. Jesus tells us here right from the start. Jesus will repeat this answer many more times until he offers us the definitive picture of what it looks like in practice up on a Cross at Calvary.
The answer to the probem of passing judgment and condemning others is to forgive as we have been forgiven.
It is to love our neighbor as we are loved by God.
It is to share the grace the Lord pours into our lives through a posture of inclusion, acceptance, and full course hospitality.
We’ve heard all this before. This redirection is nothing new.
And yet, it’s hard not to argue that a lot of Christians – professed followers of Jesus – we, us – can remain pretty judgmental even as we claim to be a forgiving people.
How can this be possible?
Sadly, it’s possible because we don’t fully understand or appreciate how radically different our typical understanding and practice of forgiveness is from that of Jesus Christ.
Consider this. In human terms, forgiveness is a matter of asking and granting.
The person in the wrong submits to the one they have wronged and asks for forgiveness.
The person who has been wronged receives an apology and then chooses whether to grant forgiveness.
Practiced solely on these terms, asking for and granting forgiveness becomes an exchange of power.
The very idea of granting forgiveness implies our sense of power.
Thus, when we forgive, we can feel generous and magnanimous. After all, we are acting like “the bigger person.” Forgiveness can inflate our ego: “Am I not merciful?”
And consider how the person who is forgiven is often framed. The one who is forgiven, can by implication, be left or remain in an inferior position. We, as the forgiver, hold the upper hand. They owe us. They are indebted to us. After all, we didn’t have to forgive them. We granted forgiveness.
While this accomplishes something – after all pardoning another person is better than punishing them – if this is as far as forgiveness goes, if the slate isn’t wiped clean, if the relationship is not restored – returned to what it once was, then this is not true reconciliation.
Or to put this another way, the divine reconciliation God offers to us in Christ far different, much more than our typical understanding of forgiveness.
Contrary to how we perceive it, how we often represent it, God’s forgiveness is not conditional upon our repentance.
After all, Jesus doesn’t come down and declare, “You’re sinful but I’m big-hearted enough to come down and forgive you, if you apologize and ask me nicely.”
No, the operating assumption of the Gospel is while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
God comes down to us in Jesus because God forgives us.
Something to notice in the gospels is Jesus declares the forgiveness of sins long before the Cross.
For the work of the Cross is the ultimate reflection of God’s forgiveness; it is not the moment when God forgives us.
God forgives us before we ask for it, before we say “We’re sorry,” before we repent and turn back to him.
Now, I know some of us are thinking, “But aren’t we call to repent? Doesn’t the Bible say, repentance is required for the forgiveness of sins?”
God’s forgiveness is not conditional upon our repentance. Our experience of God’s forgiveness is conditional upon our repentance.
There are several examples to point to in the gospels when forgiveness is extended by Jesus before or without any sign of repentance by the other person.
However, the one example I’ll point to is that of the elder son in the parable Jesus tells about the father and his two sons.
The elder son is forgiven – welcomed into the party – all that the Father has – even though he is unrepentant.
But the elder son denies himself the gift, the experience of forgiveness because of his unrepentance.
Pushing this further, we often frame divine forgiveness as solely being about God’s mercy toward us.
There are many variations on this theme but they all revolve around this idea that we are dirty, rotten sinners – imperfect and unholy people whom a perfect and holy God cannot occupy the same space with us but mercifully chooses to forgive us despite this, so we can be with him.
While certainly, the Lord’s pardoning of humanity is an act of unmerited mercy, biblically, the work and scope of forgiveness God seeks to impart into our lives through Christ is far more than a transactional exchange – our sin for Jesus’ righteousness.
The Christian theologian and mystic, Richard Rohr once put it this way, “Jesus’ forgiveness is less of an act of mercy and more of an act of loyalty – to the truth of who we are.”
Perhaps our predilection towards judgmentalism stems in part from a misperception as to how God both sees and embraces us.
God doesn’t come down to us in Christ to condemn us. God comes down to us in Christ to save us from ourselves.
Jesus doesn’t assert we’re inherently bad but that we are broken.
If our identity in Christ is not defined by what we DO – what we earn or achieve, what we merit or deserve – then we are not bad.
The problem, our problem is sin is thinking, speaking, acting, and living badly – not according to the truth of who God is and who we are – both individually and collectively.
Jesus doesn’t teach us we’re the problem.
Jesus teaches the problem is we’re lost, we’re blind, we’re going the wrong way – not the way we were intended to live, not being who we created to be.
In answer to the problem of our sin, Jesus offers to us more than a pardon, Jesus extends to us forgiveness that purposes to reshape our sense of identity – the judgments that have been cast upon us and the judgments we’ve made about ourselves.
In human terms, when we forgive, we do so to look good – to be the bigger person.
But when God forgives, God has nothing to prove. And so the forgiveness Jesus imparts to us as the Son, isn’t to make His Father look good; it’s to enable us to realize the truth – how good we can be – the best – the fullest, complete version of who we are.
That is what Jesus ultimately wants us to see. This is why Jesus forgives us – removes all our guilt and shame – so that we can and we will, as St. Augustine writes, see ourselves and see each other not just as we are now, but as what we are meant to be.
This is the kind of forgiveness Jesus brings – forgiveness that reconciles us not only to God but also to ourselves and each other, forgiveness that restores our common dignity and worth.
And the only way to stop being judgmental is to follow Christ is forgiving others the way he forgives us.
This means forgiving without conditions, without repentance.
This can be hard for many of us to swallow.
Deep down, once we truly understand it, God’s work of forgiveness upsets our moral sense of justice.
Parties for prodigals. Open tables for tax collectors and sinners. Kindness and inclusion for outsiders and half-breeds – Gentiles and Samaritans.
All without an apology. All without some form of restitution.
Judgmentalism begins to take form in our lives the moment we convince ourselves that the work of God is somehow incomplete – that we need to take care of the part the Lord misses.
And so we rush to judgment, we pass sentence on others and draw lines in the sand, claiming the necessity, the importance of justice being done.
But even as we raise the gavel, as we pick up our rock – the chip on our shoulder to throw – we cannot escape, we cannot ignore the voice of Jesus once more declaring “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
Yes, there is no lasting reconciliation without final justice. Yes, there is no righteousness unless wrongs are righted.
But final, ultimate justice belongs to the Lord. This is God’s work, not ours.
Our work is to act justly rather than to sit in judgment.
Our work is to forgive as we have been forgiven – as we are forgiven, to forgive others – and in so doing, to release the transformative power of the love of God.
There is a difference between forgiveness as a religious obligation – a duty AND forgiveness as a reflection of one’s faith – an act of sacrificial love that points not to ourselves but to Jesus.
True forgiveness is believing in someone beyond the limits and fractures of their sin; it is accepting that person for who they are in Christ – and reflecting their true identity in Christ back to them rather than allowing that person to be destroyed by self-hatred or worse, contributing to their self-loathing.
This is the problem with revenge. It’s not about payback. It’s about annihilation – the annihilation of who that person is – to ruin them, to destroy them.
To truly forgive someone is to recognize who they are – not because of their sin – but in despite of it – to affirm the best version of themselves in the midst of their imperfections and flaws.
Jesus says there are two realities you can buy into.
One is the realm of judgments, verdicts, and condemnation. A history, a repeated cycle of violence based on grudges held, hurts that we pass on, and retaliations that we justify.
It is a road marked by unnecessary suffering that in the end leads right back where it starts and thus goes nowhere.
The other realm which Jesus heralds and beckons us to enter is the Kingdom of God – a realm marked by grace and laughter – of not taking ourselves so seriously but always taking our compassion towards others as sacred.
A way of life in which tables are open and wide enough for anyone to join our company and share our food as together our cups runneth over.
It is an economy where we don’t look to score points at the expense of each other but instead the currency we exchange with each other – is that of shared hope and love.
It is a road walked by faith that leads us beyond our fears, beyond our troubles, beyond even death itself.
It is the gospel of forgiveness in which God’s promise of a reconciled, just, and everlasting future is actualized here and now. Amen.