judge not

I recently came across this image making its way around Facebook. And based on the majority of the comments the message seemed clear: the Bible isn’t saying don’t judge, it’s merely saying “don’t judge hypocritically.” Some go as far as to claim that Christ is here calling us to judge others.
Much of the frustration with how people in our world interpret “judge not” seems to be directed at taking things out of context. So like a good former Evangelical I grabbed my Bible and looked up Matthew 7. What struck me was that this image implies that if we read the rest Matthew 7 it will give us a very different message. But reading through Matthew 7:1-6, I found that the remainder of the passage seems to be a fuller articulation of those first two words; “Judge not.” Christ even takes it further, saying
How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank form your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.
It can be so easy for us to assume that this plank in our own eye is like pulling out a splinter, a rather easy and short term task. But removing a splinter is what Christ is saying our brothers and sisters need. Our call, to remove the plank from our own eye, is more like having a major surgery, and until that surgery is complete and our barely functioning spiritual eyes are able to see clearly, “judge not” will be quite enough for us when it comes to interacting with those around us. We acknowledge the lifelong difficulty of this call to judge not every time we pray the prayer of St. Ephraim the Syrian “O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions, and not to judge my brother.” Praying this regularly is the spiritual medicine offered to us by a great doctor of the soul.
Christ gives us further instruction on the intricacies of removing that speck from our brother’s eye once our eyes have had enough years of prayer to adequately see: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.” If we are at a place where we are spiritually healed and mature enough to help our brother remove the speck that hinders him, we must first discern if he is ready to be healed, if not we are wasting the sacred gifts which have been given to us and inviting others to turn on us and tear us to pieces. So after the long arduous path of our own healing and the careful process of discerning our brother’s readiness to be healed, then it seems we are being called to be our brother’s physician. But at that point I don’t think judgment will be felt at all, our brother will likely experience the precision of the tools we have been given as pure love. In the words of St. John Chrysostom, “Correct him, but not as a foe, nor as an enemy exacting a penalty, but as a physician providing medicine.” We are called to become the healers of our brothers, not the judges, and we must always keep in mind that it is at a spiritual hospital we serve, not a courtroom.

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