Who are we to judge?
Generally speaking, we are more transparent than we think, and our imperfections can be easy to spot; our faults appear when we speak, Sirach tells his audience, for our speech discloses the bent of our mind. It’s often not hard for others to see if our actions are authentic, for, as Jesus reminds his disciples in Luke’s Gospel, a good tree does not bear rotten fruit, nor does a rotten tree bear good fruit. But Jesus knows that the hardest task can be for us to see our own imperfections clearly: How can you say to your brother, Brother, let me remove that splinter in your eye, when you do not even notice the wooden beam in your own eye? Nevertheless, we tend to judge others far more harshly than we judge ourselves. And often our vision is cloudy.
Pope Francis is famous for the question, Who am I to judge? To judge others involves setting ourselves up as authority over them; the word judge comes from the Latin ius, meaning right or law. But we can’t always see as God’s sees, and our sense of what is right can be flawed by our own blindness; Can a blind person guide another blind person? Jesus asks. Take the Corinthians, for example. Paul knows that they are liable to fall into sin because they don’t see beyond the present moment: Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die is more or less their credo (1 Cor 15). Yet Paul shares God’s vision with them, assuring them that death – generally a terrifying event to contemplate -- has been swallowed up in victory, thanks to Jesus’ victory over sin. What the Corinthians judged as an acceptable stance from which to live is no longer operative; their judgment has led them astray. Here, Paul, acting with compassion, is not judging the Corinthians so much as offering them a new perspective, a new way of seeing.
To conquer our tendency to judge allows us to act from a place of mercy and compassion, bearing good fruit, like the just one described in Psalm 92. When we step back from our own limited knowledge and try to see as God sees, we are capable of acting with loving kindness, producing good out of the store of goodness in our heart, always devoted to the work of the Lord, able to meet others where they are, without judgment, with compassion and mercy born of love. No splinter there!