Monday, October 21, 2013

Jesus Doesn't Judge Others - We Shouldn't Either

One of the more interesting passages of the Gospel of John comes to us in Chapter 8. The full story is below. We will break it down into chunks to examine what I mean when I argue that Jesus doesn't judge others.
"Early in the morning he came again to the temple; all the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the law Moses commanded us to stone such. What do you say about her?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus looked up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”"
-John 8:2-11
There are several striking features within this passage I would like to explore. The first is the location. Notice they are in the temple and it is early morning.

The woman was most likely caught in adultery the night before and kept under guard until Jesus arrived in the Temple, so she could be used in a ploy to trap Jesus. This means the Pharisees and Scribes had been thinking about this situation for a while and thought it might prove to be the starting point of Jesus downfall.

We see that they have already condemned the woman. Under Jewish law she is guilty (because she was "caught in the act" by witnesses) and deserves to die by stoning according to Lev 20:10. What they don't say is that the man who was having adultery with her is also deserving of the same punishment. There is certainly a double-standard in place.

Why is this a trap? If Jesus says to stone her, then they will report him to the Roman officials for inciting a capital punishment, which only the Romans could carry out. If Jesus says not to stone her, then he is undercutting Jewish law and would lose credibility with the Jews.

Instead he bends over and starts to write in the dirt - the only time we ever hear of Jesus writing. What He wrote has been guessed at for centuries. My take comes directly from the prophet Jeremiah, which the Scribes and Pharisees would have been familiar with. It states:
"Lord, you are the hope of Israel; all who forsake you will be put to shame. Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the Lord, the spring of living water."-Jer 17:13
Is Jesus writing the names of the accusers? Maybe. Maybe not. But, it makes sense to me. Just a few verses before (verse 10) Jeremiah writes:
“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.”
Jesus is able to search the hearts of the Scribes and Pharisees. He sees the hatred and vice within them. He also sees the heart of the adulteress and how she is repentant. The contrast is stark. He stands up and answers them:
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Then "immediately" he goes back to writing in the dust. They leave, starting with the oldest (wisest), because they see that they are caught in their own trap. They cannot stone her - because the Romans might make them pay with their own lives. So, they walk away, but discredit themselves by not fulfilling the Mosaic law.

To top it off, they thought themselves sinless, because they observed the Mosaic law down to the finest detail. But, Jesus points us to the new law, which looks at the heart and shows they were truly sinners, as we all are.

So, now the attention is drawn to the woman. While the Jewish leaders were present, she is merely a pawn in their scheme. But, when they leave, she becomes present to us and we see how much Jesus loves her. He asks her if anyone has "condemned her". The Greek word used here is "katakrinĊ" which means "to judge someone worthy of punishment". She answers that there are none left to judge her in this way and Jesus tells us, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and do not sin again.”"

Notice Jesus doesn't judge that the woman is worthy of punishment, even though she has sinned. This is for His Father to do.

So, is Jesus saying she can do whatever she wants? Of course not - hence the statement to "go and sin no more."

So, how then do we balance not judging a person as worthy of punishment and yet judge that their actions might be wrong? The Bible will offer the solution, of course. Let us start with the favorite of our culture today - “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matt. 7:1; Luke 6:37). To understand what Jesus is saying we must understand the first kind of judgment that we find in the Bible - the ultimate Divine judgment we all will receive when we die. We see this in the Old Testament, including
"Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions” -Ezekiel 18:30
The Old Testament prophets widely spoke of the Divine judgment the Israelites would face if they failed to repent. The prophets leave the Divine judgment of souls for God while speaking the message of repentance. This Divine right to judge our souls’ eternal punishment or reward is echoed by Paul.
“...on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus” -Romans 2:16
The second kind of judgment we see in the Bible is judging the acts of another person to be good or evil. This kind of judgment must be done in love of others, with prudence, and should be done in order to steer our fellow man to his proper goal, heaven.
Take heed to yourselves; if your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” -Luke 17:3

As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear -1 Timothy 5:20
“This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” -Titus 1:13
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” -Matt 18:15
Thus, while we are to avoid the judgment of deciding another’s ultimate fate, sometimes it is necessary and good to direct someone to stop sinning out of love for them. While this isn’t the most politically correct thing to do, Jesus never failed to be politically incorrect when love was at stake. If we truly thirst for the salvation of all like Jesus did, then in some situations we are obligated to speak the truth about the dangers of another’s sinful actions.

Jesus was also never shy about talking to another about their sin, and taking it a step further, he always told them they should stop. He constantly rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy (John the Baptist was even more harsh).

While in the John 8 He says that He does not judge (condemn) the woman, He does judge she has sinned. Jesus never tolerated sin, and He was quick to show others their sinful actions were wrong, but He only did it out of love and with compassion. He knew eternity was at stake.

From this quick look at the biblical understanding of judgment and tolerance we can easily understand what Jesus means when he tells us not to judge others.
Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven-Luke 6:37
This is referring to the ultimate judgment of someone’s soul that is reserved to God alone. If we continue to read, it becomes even clearer how we are supposed to act in these situations.
Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, `Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,' when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye” -Luke 6:41-42
Jesus is saying to rebuke another out of love, with gentleness and kindness, but do not rub their noses in it.

When another person says not to “judge them” it may be that they are saying that you do not have the right to tell them that what they have done is wrong. However, Jesus tells us that as long as we do it out of love and we don’t presume to know their destiny, we can, and sometimes must, help our brothers and sisters see their own sin. If we then get labeled as intolerant hate-mongers or judgmental bigots, we might do just as Jesus did and correct their error. If they still refuse to listen, then we must do what Jesus taught and shake the dust from our sandals (or boots) and move on.

Paul, who very well could have the greatest thirst for souls of all the apostles, sums it all up for us while writing to Timothy about the balance that must be brought to a Christian who wants to evangelize and preach the truth.
"I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching” -2 Timothy 4:1-2
With this being said, it might be easier to understand why Jesus (and Pope Francis) doesn't judge others and why we shouldn't either.

1 comment:

George @ Convert Journal said...

Exactly. This area is so poorly understood by so many.

On one side, there are those who judge the state of another's soul. They really should think about that. Imagine the unbearable weight if God were to say "fine, you decide". How could we? We could not know another's heart or properly weigh mitigating circumstances. Thank God that we are NOT asked to judge!

On the other side, there are those who will accept objectively sinful actions of others in the name of political correctness. They will rationalize about free will, tolerance, differing faiths, and so on but it really is about their own acceptance and fitting in. In those cases, it is selfish and lacking charity. Admonishing sinners in love is a spiritual work of mercy.