Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Et averterem Indignationem Tuam ab Eis

Fr. Jim has a Sermon on the famous verses from the seventh chapter of Matthew's Gospel, "judge not, that ye be not judged."

In what Fr. Jim does talk about, he does a fine job. But I think he left out something significant, which is how wretchedly misinterpreted and misused this verse is today. Absolutely, I do not sanction judging, but after mulling it over with my what devices my intellect and wits provide, I have very clear ideas about what actually is the sin of judging and what isn't.

Today, "judge not, that ye be not judged" is used to mean don't tell people what they don't want to hear and, quite often, don't even have opinions. I remember I was chatting with a woman who, among other things of course, told me what parish she went to. When she did, I went something like "Oh geez, that!" because the church, as I remember it, was indistinguishable from a pig sty and had such abominations as a television screen behind the altar. She calmy attempted to admonish me for being "judgmental". I did not and still do not consider what I said to have been sinful. I was expressing, though certainly in a simpler way, my opinion about the looks of a church. Also, though not being angry or anything, I abhorred her blatant misuse of Sacred Scripture, a misuse I deemed (not to say "judged"...we don't want to get redundant here) to be simply self-serving.

Did I sin? Explain. I do not interpret Matthew 7:1 to mean don't have opinions unless they give people nice, warm, fuzzy feelings.

Real quick, what do I interpret it to mean? I believe it means do not ever presume to know or declare, either during that person's earthly life or after it, the eternal resting place of another. In other words, don't say, "this person is in hell". Now quite a few people will abhorr my interpretation of it because it takes away a lot of the false ammunition it has been given by people who want to misuse it. That attitude is wrong by itself because I don't believe you should look at Sacred Scripture and think that this or that verse will serve your agenda well nor be disappointed if you have found out that maybe the verse in question doesn't give you an opportunity to wham people with the ol' knee jerk "you're judging me!!".

Keep in mind also that we have courts of law which have rightful power to judge people to be guilt of a crime and punish or to judge them to be innocent and exonerate them of charges. I have yet to see the people who will yell things like the last words of my last paragraph protest the United States courts (except, of course, when they don't get their way) and especially not when the words "not guilty are spoken about them or a friend or loved one. Just noting some inconsistency. But let's move on.

Also, people will question this interpretation because they wonder what relevance it would have had. Christ said that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. This was and is still relevant because there were people who were so rich, fat, and happy that they placed it all before God. But, I mean, how do you work some sort of explanation like that out of Matthew 7:1?

Easily: look at the historical context. Back then, it was a common sin (as it might be today, I don't know) to decide people were damned, a task reserved only for God. Christ is telling us, basically, don't do that and be very aware of the occasions to do it because you will get from God as good as you gave. However, something that I believed is also meant by Matthew 7:1 is not only not to damn people to hell but at the same time not to raise people to heaven! Think about it...Christ isn't saying "don't say this guy or that guy is in hell", He's saying DO NOT JUDGE the eternal resting place of a soul which was, as I said, a pretty common sin. But even while we should ardently hope a soul is not in hell and is in heaven, our charge not to pretend to be able to know extends to both judging a soul as damned or as saved. I think we should be more careful before doing both. When I die, I hope people will pray for my soul because I am NOT going straight to heaven like it is so fondly assumed of a loved one when they die ("I'm so sad he's gone, but I'm sure he's in a better place now").

So yes, I think that interpretation, not to declare a souls eternal whereabouts, is the correct interpretation and carries more than a bit of weight. But surely there are other implications Matthew 7:1 seems to embrace than I have mentioned. Yes, there are, and while I think that all of these can be abused into judging someone's soul to heaven or hell, it is the abuse and not the fact.

Suppose you're playing cards with some friends and one of them draws a hand that could be better and grumbles "God damn it". He has sinned, and you are by no means transgressing Matthew 7:1 by recognizing that, be it silently or vocally. But take it a step further and say that you are judging his soul and relationship with God to be hurt. Again, I do not believe this to be sinning. Now, in both instances, you can add "oh and by the way, you're heading for hell" and that would put you in the wrong too. Or even without saying or thinking that, you can go about it in an uncalm and antagonistic way. Both examples are no-no's. But if you do this out of a sense of charity, of admonishing the sinner (which, let's not forget is one of the Spiritual Works of Mercy), than you're still in the right and you have not sinned.

But doesn't the Church say that those who die in a state of mortal sin go to hell? Isn't that judging even in my rigid sense of actually bad and sinful judging? No, it isn't. The Church is not saying that this man or that woman is damned and has never ever said that in anything like official terms. As dad said once, the Church doesn't un-Canonize people. What the Church is saying is that on an objective level, if you die being unrepentant for sins you knew were wrong, purposely did, and were of serious matter, you will go to hell. But this is objective truth and not subjective judgment.

So like anything else, it's all about moderation and prudence. It's not flatly "don't judge", but not to presume to have the infinite sight of the soul and knowledge of the heart that is needed to judge a soul and which only God has.

Several times before, I referred to "my" interpretation but that's really doing an injustice. Reason being there is no greater ratifier for "my" interpretation of Matthew 7:1 than the Bible. If I were to quote all of the times and instances where Jesus does or says something totally debunking the facile "don't judge or tell me bad hearing" stance on the meaning of Matthew 7:1, I'd be here all day. Simply looking at the entire of the seven chapter of St. Matthew's Gospel shows me that. If I were to quote all the passages from the Old Testament that achieve the same end, I'd be here the rest of my life.

If we think someone is actually judging in a sinful way, we should approach them calmly like Matthew 18 calls us to do and talk about it. But let's all get clear about what is and isn't judgment in the light Christ is talking about it in. If there's one sentence I hope people take to heart from this post, it would be the last one.

Looking at the Spiritual Works of Mercy, at least five out of the seven give us truly Christ-like ways in which to deal with someone else's wrong rather than he way that transgresses Matthew 7:1. Instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, bear wrongs patiently, forgive offences willingly, comfort the afflicted, and pray for the living and the dead.

I judge this post to be over.