We are all familiar with Jesus’ words, “Do not judge.”
Perhaps our familiarity with it is due to the fact many of us insist on judging others. We are willing to entertain conversation about most anyone who makes a mistake or does something wrong, even when it has nothing to do with us. Something in us likes to see people pay for their misdeeds. So we attack.
Our attacks come in the form of opinions, jokes, Facebook banter and conversations. We call names, label others, race to characterize and make sure others know our thoughts. It’s a kind of public punishment that we get to enforce. We launch toxic, crippling words as a way of inflicting harm on those we believe should know better. But it gets worse.
Conversations abound of how people in the Church cast judgment on others. Yes, we are to discern good from evil, but we insist on judgment as a form of condemnation. In fact, from the people I have met, it may very be the single greatest reason men and women choose to leave the Church altogether.
Just last week, I spoke with a young woman who had not been to Church in over 10 years. Her reason was simple: she felt condemned. When she was younger, she made a mistake. The attitude and words of those in her Church told her she was not welcome. So she left. To this day she carries the wounds given to her by others.
We fail to see our form of judgment and punishment only creates a divide and forces others out. Yet, no matter how often we hear Jesus’ words, we just can’t seem to stop.
Maybe we cannot stop judging and punishing others because something about it feeds us, and our appetite is insatiable. When we stand as judge, jury and executioner over another, it gives us the feeling of being superior and righteous. And, let’s be honest, the alternative just does not give us the same feeling.
The alternative is, of course, seeking to reconcile, restore and renew. This does nothing to feed us. Rather, it asks us to feed others—even those who should know better and those have wronged us. The alternative demands we stand under the other and recognize we are all in need of reconciliation.
And the people of God are called to be ministers of reconciliation.
We cannot take a step toward that call until we first love. Some, no doubt, hear this and think this kind of love is weak. This kind of love gives everyone a pass, tells everyone they are OK or it’s cool to be messed up. If any of us think that is what love is, we are mistaken, because none of those things are love.
To be clear, love is violent. However, the violence of love is far different than the violence we dole out to one another every day. The violence of love is what we see on the cross.
The cross was the single greatest act of love in human history, and it was, at the same time, extremely violent. The difference is Jesus took the violence on Himself. He did not strike out at those who mocked Him or fight against those who nailed Him in place; He forgave them. In the midst of punishment at the hands of humans, Jesus loved and loved violently.
The violence of love asks each of us to take the violence on ourselves. This kind of love does not give others a pass or pretend everyone is OK. Rather, it recognizes the brokenness, fear, anger, shame, sin and hate in others and agrees to take all of that on itself. In this, love causes the spiral of violence to cease.
If we are willing to imitate this kind of love, we will find it’s quite hard to spend our time judging others. Because if we love others enough to serve them, to not return an insult and let their pain be ours, we will find judgment and punishment no longer fit. Too often, we miss this first step and fail to love.
My conversation last week with that young woman concluded with her telling me why she came back to Church after a decade. She met someone who loved her. When she told her story, she was met with tears, not punishment. When she spoke of her wounds, she saw an agonized face looking back at her. When she encountered love, it met her in a place far deeper than her wounds could ever go, and because of that she is on a path of reconciliation.
We must see our appetite for judgment has caused us to be overstuffed and unconcerned for the hearts of others. Many of us have abandoned our call to be ministers of reconciliation. Rather than renew, redeem and restore, we tear down and create mounds of ruin. We have a bloodlust, forgetting all the while that the blood spilled on the cross was enough for all of us—and no more blood needs to be spilled.
The invitation for each of us is to abandon judgment, to abstain from condemnation, to forego punishment and pursue the violence of love. It demands that we feed others rather than feed ourselves. Perhaps if we, through the power of the Spirit, can do this, we just might find less judgment. More than that, we will find more reconciliation.