No matter how we try to get away from he or how we try to re-read the scriptures from a different point of view, it appears to be soundly present. And no matter now we try to Judge Not Lest We Be Judged, it always seems to show up in us....how about you?
We want to Judge others, we want to Judge ourselves, we want God to Judge others, we want God to Judge us. We see in scripture the ways God Judges folks and we get excited and scared about it all at the same time. It seems like a natural and built in part of who we are and how we operate. We Judge things. We Judge people. We Judge actions. We Judge intentions.
And what are we craving (or scared of) when Judgment is the question? Do we want to know if we are Good Enough? Do we want to know that we are going to "make it".....and do we maybe even want to be assured that others are not "good enough" or are not going to "make it"?
And there is a lot of Judgment that is good. Judgment keeps us alive. It keeps us healthy.
But the Judgment that we often talk about in religious / spiritual / scriptural settings is not focused on eating more vegetables or crossing the street at the appropriate time. Most of the time in these settings we are talking about Judgment between right and wrong, good and bad, divine and evil.
And it appears that the Judgment found in the scriptures is always pretty polarized....but not necessarily in to what appear to be evenly set up groups. For example, in Psalm 82 there is a question of judgment between the Wicked and the Weak. The Wicked seem to be the ones oppressing the Weak. The Wicked are being Judged on their actions against another group and the Weak are being held up and protected because of their vulnerable state. These two groups are not being Judged on the same criteria, and yet they are Judged in the same breath.
In the story of the prophet Amos we get a good, tangible, physical reference to Judgment-a plumb line. A string with a weight on the end that helps to determine when something is in line with its intended path. We don't know for sure Amos's experience as a carpenter, but we do know he was not a 'professional' prophet (there were some in that day...folks who made careers out of prophesying place to place). He was called out of his place as a herdsman and told to share this message of Judgment from God with the power structure of Israel. They tried to shoo him away and get him to go spread his bad news somewhere else, however that only created a more dramatic response from God to the people of Israel. Amos was sharing with the Israelites that God was displeased with them because they did not 'line up' with the plumb line of God, and because of their behavior (social and religious) their country would be destroyed. [Wow...hopefully this was only true in 8th Century BCE Palestine...it would be terrible today if the personal attitudes and choices and practices of individual citizens might cause an entire government to weaken and fall...we sure are glad this is a 'Bible Story']
The excerpt from Paul's letter to the Colossians is familiar in tone. It is the opening greeting he writes to many of the churches. He praises their work, lifts up their goodness and tells them that he prays for their well-being and fruitfulness. Imagine the pastoral role of caring for these new, delicate communities facing persecution and judgment from the outside. It would be important to protect the spirit of community - to encourage these young churches toward care and keeping of one another. Devolving into Judgy places only destroys the community. Across the Epistles, Paul seems aware and guarding against that - sometimes subtly, sometimes not so much.
In the passage from Luke we see a lawyer wanting to test Jesus a bit about Judgment. He wants Jesus to tell him Exactly what he needs to do to 'inherit eternal life'. When Jesus guides him to the answer that he should love his neighbor, the lawyer (being a good keeper of the law) wanted to parse it out further and know Exactly who his neighbor is. The attempt here seems to be one where the lawyer can know the precise boundaries of his responsibilities so he can 'inherit eternal life' with the greatest efficiency. And so Jesus answers his question with the story of the Samaratian who helped a man beaten half to death by robbers. This story illustrates many things, but it offers less direct Judgment than it seems the lawyer expected. Jesus seems to leave the lawyer with the impression that the only Judgment between people is that there are Those Who Show Mercy and there are Those Who Do Not Show Mercy.
That seems to be an easier way to Judge and to understand Judgment, doesn't it?
How do I Inherit Eternal Life?
How do I know I am on the side of God?
How do I know right over wrong, good over bad, divine over evil?
That is simpler than the systems we often create, isn't it?
the temptation to measure myself
against others is great
and it leads me to judging places.
Help me to remember
that I am created by Your hand
and so is my neighbor
and so is the one I want to name enemy
It is easier to judge
than to show mercy, to love the stranger
Help me to soften my gaze
and reach out beyond my safety circle
to show mercy and love
and not to Judge.
© matt & laura norvell 2010 www.settingourstones.org
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