The Death of Judgment in the Call to Love - Mike Erre
What gets in the way of loving people the way Christ loves us? The problem is that we succumb continually to the temptation to eat again from the knowledge of the tree of good and evil. Adam and Eve’s temptation still haunts us: to place ourselves at the center of the garden and assume the role of judge—a role that is rightly God’s alone.
Jesus, in his regular, magisterial, compelling way, begins to teach his disciples about what it means to love. And he begins to describe the kind of love that transcends patron client relationships and the laws of reciprocity that governed ancient Near Eastern society, begins to describe a love that is indiscriminate and that gives without expectation of return. He begins to speak of children of a Father who is just like that, who loves just like that. Jesus begins to speak, and he invites his disciples to emulate the Father, and he says in the culminating moment of this portion of the book of Luke, he says be merciful. He takes this well known command from Leviticus, be holy as I am holy, and he updates it, he says be merciful just as your Father is merciful, why? Because he is kind to the just and the unjust. And so Jesus comes and he describes an indiscriminate kind of love, a love that even includes the love of enemy, which to this day is still the least practiced command of Jesus.
And so, Jesus then begins, in my English Bible, he begins, it looks like, to talk about something else, there’s a paragraph break, and a section heading, and an indent, like he’s moved on. Because he begins to talk about judgment, he says do not judge and you will not be judged, do not condemn and you will not be condemned. And you think okay, what’s that have to do with anything? He says whatever measure you use will be used on you, and you realize okay, so this word judge, this word judge is the word krino, and the word krino means to separate and to categorize, and in the Bible it’s used in two different ways. There’s a positive aspect to this, and a negative aspect to the word krino, to separate, to categorize. Jesus here speaks of the negative aspect obviously, because he’s condemning judgment, but what kind of judgment is he condemning? Well, in the way that parallelism works, he’s repeating judgment and condemnation, right? He says do not judge, you will not be judged, do not condemn, you will not be condemned, he’s talking about the judgment that leads to condemnation, the judgment that flows from an observation of someone’s outward behavior to assumptions, conclusions, comparisons, contrasts, and verdicts about their motives and their identity. And that’s a very easy step, is it not? Right, it’s a really quick step from the crying infant on the airplane, to well, they’re just bad parents. It’s a real easy step to the homeless person asking for money along the side of the freeway, at least one of the exits, to well, that person just needs to get a job, they’re probably mentally ill, right?
Those are really short steps, and what Jesus is prohibiting is the kind of judgment that goes from the observation of external behavior to judgments, verdicts, conclusions, about what’s happening inside. This, of course, is the easiest thing for us to do, we’ve been doing it for thousands of years, but the problem Jesus identifies in it is that is what kills mercy. How can anyone show Father-like, indiscriminate love if the ongoing narrative of our subconscious brains is simply an ongoing comparison and contrasting? It’s not just that we render verdicts on each other all the time, it’s that those verdicts are always designed to make us feel better about ourselves in comparison with others, would you agree? I mean, it’s not just that I’m rendering verdicts, it’s that those verdicts are intended to give me life, right? And this, perhaps, this was what was originally given to Adam and Eve when they ate the fruit of the tree that they were not supposed to eat the fruit of, right? The tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and there are many guesses as to what that fruit was and what it represented and what it did to them.
Maybe it was cultural knowledge or carnal knowledge or many different guesses, but I find it so interesting that immediately what happens, at least according to the text of Genesis, is that they realize they are naked, and they make the judgment that naked is bad. So whatever the tree of knowledge of good and evil was, it equipped them now to judge. The man judges the woman and blames her, the serpent gets blamed in the process, they hide, they fear, they clothe, I mean, you know the story. And of course, thousands and thousands of years later, we’re still reaching for that tree, the most easy thing in the world is to just observe a little bit, we make first impressions within seconds of each other, that’s the positive way to say that, I say we make judgments in the first couple of seconds, right? And so, what Jesus condemns, what Jesus says is antithetical to the mercy of the Father is the ongoing narrative structure of our minds that simply looks, observes, and renders verdicts.
Though there is a positive aspect to this, but Jesus calls out the double standard implicit in all of our judgments, they’re all designed to give us life, at least I’m not like that person. And think about the double standards in our judgments, right? I mean, so Jesus then goes on, and it’s brilliant, I mean, I was thinking about what to talk about, and I’m like well, I think Jesus covers this really well. He says listen, you hypocrite, why do you try to take the speck of sawdust out of someone else’s eye and don’t deal with the two-by-four in your own? Instead, deal with your two-by-four, then you can see clearly enough to take the speck out. Now, think about how profound this statement turns out to be, what’s Jesus saying? Every judgment turns out to be a double standard, correct? And I was thinking about this, here are all of my double standards. Well, at least a few of them. One is I judge people according to their actions, but I judge myself according to my intentions, right? So when my wife, God bless her, gets upset with me about something, my initial defense is always I didn’t mean it, right? I didn’t mean it that way, that’s your issue, but when she doesn’t something to hurt me, I don’t care what you meant, honey, it hurt. Isn’t that interesting? You’re laughing a little too hard at that, Christina. Or I actually love to reverse the log and speck thing, I love to see other peoples’ sins as bigger and my sins as smaller, so I have a hard time, I have a very easy time condemning materialism, I have a hard time condemning love of ice cream. Right, I have a very easy time condemning the sins that I myself don’t think I struggle with. So I see a bunch of logs looking at me right now, right?
And I’m just full of specks. Or the third way that I practice this double standard that Jesus calls out is that I’m in process, all right, I’m on a journey, you should know better, you’ve been following Jesus for 10 years, right? And so what Jesus does is he calls, he paints this picture of what the Father is like, the Father be merciful as a Father is merciful, what’s that mean? It means to display love even to your enemies, God displays kindness to the just and the unjust, and then he talks about judgment, why? Because it’s that kind of krino, that condemning kind of judgment that is so natural for us since the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that has to be outlawed, why? Because it kills mercy. Because ultimately what you’re judging when it comes to mercy is who is worthy of it. And Jesus just simply says everybody. Now, there is a positive sense to krino, there are passages in the New Testament, particularly in the epistles where there are judgments to be made, but in those passages, it’s fascinating, the judgments aren’t separations of people, they’re separations of behaviors or actions. And that difference is a vast, vast difference. In other words, instead of separating people into the godly and ungodly, to the sheep and the goats, to the wheat and the weeds, to those worthy of mercy to those unworthy of mercy, instead of making categorizations based on outward behavior, let’s just talk about the outward behavior, that it’s helpful or not helpful, beneficial, not beneficial, aligned with the kingdom or not aligned with the kingdom.
So in the New Testament, you have lots of admonitions for the church to discern, but even then, even when we think we’ve got the okay to do this with each other, it is so unbelievably qualified in how it should be practiced, right? Think about it, when Jesus uses the plank and the speck imagery, he talks about when you see the speck in your brother, or when Peter talks about judgments, judgment begins with a household of God, or when Paul, Paul, dealing with one of the most offensive passages to modern ears, dealing with the public and ongoing sexual immorality in the church in Corinth, and Corinth’s pride in allowing it to happen. In the middle of that whole thing, Paul says a sentence that has been so radically disobeyed by the American church, he simply says what business is it of mine to krino or judge those outside the church? I judge those inside, and we precisely, exactly, have flipped that backwards. So we have cottage industries, full publishing houses now dedicated to calling the evil in the world evil, and here, well, we’re just under grace, and true, we’re under grace, but Paul offers us this radical notion that oh, I wish I and us would take seriously. Let’s expect Christians to act like Christians and non Christians to act like non Christians.
How about let’s not force non covenant people into covenant behavior. Our moral judgements, we’re still called to be prophetic and salt and light, yes, but our moral judgments ring so unbelievably hollow when our own house is not in order. So what if we took all of that energy and zeal of those non Christians pagans out there in the world, what if we took all of that and followed what the scriptures would say? That judgment begins with the church. But even then, even then, okay, so I can judge other Christians, that’s awesome, I mean, I can have a field day with that, right? But even then, what was the predominant way that people related in Christian communities in the first century when all of this was written? Was in a home, was at a table, was 15 to 20 people. Wasn’t in a mega church, right? Wasn’t even in a church of 200, these were 20, 30, 40, and Luke tells us that these were churches, at least in Jerusalem, that met daily. So they were on the inside of each other’s lives, they weren’t just walking up to random Christians and judging them on the basis of their clothing or their music or whatever it was, they krino that is supported and encouraged happened with these tight knit units of fellow covenant partners who were in each other’s lives. But even then, okay then, okay, so I get to judge the people in my small group, okay, that is awesome. But even then, Jesus has words for us.
Whatever speck I seek to identify in another, he says, I am to consider my own sin a plank in comparison. Oh, I mean, think about what Paul says, this statement of Paul just blows my mind, the Paul that said I am a Pharisee of Pharisees, I was born of the tribe of Benjamin, circumcised on the eighth day, right? I mean, I, in regards to the law, I was thoughtless, and then I met Jesus, and it’s all rubbish. This same Paul says here’s a trustworthy statement that deserves full confidence, Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners of whom I am the worst. Now, that could’ve been hyperbole of course, but he uses this line several other times in regards to his apostleship, in regards to his calling, and in this instance, what if, and on the basis of the New Testament, I just have to be honest, it compels me to have to argue with him for that title. Because if what Jesus is saying turns out to be true, the only insides I actually know are my own, and so the only inclinations, the only motives, the only hardness of heart, all I know is me, and so I have begun the terrifying practice of walking into a room and assuming I am the worst sinner here. And then, within the church, within the covenant community of tight knit people that regard each other as brothers and sisters, and then, and only then, with gentleness, Paul says in Galatians, might I dare deal with a speck in somebody else’s eye. Imagine if you had a whole crew of people who believed they were the worst sinners in the room? How would those people disagree? What verdicts would those people render? See, I think the common sense, obedience, to the teachings of Jesus addresses the core problems of modern humanity, and if we were to be like children of the Father, then judgment must die. [light music]