For many of us, judging one another is almost as automatic as breathing. As we encounter someone, instant internal judgments arise. We judge looks, clothes, actions, inactions, homes, cars, and material items. We judge our family, spouses, friends, colleagues, classmates, leaders, enemies, celebrities, as well as those different from us and those on the peripheries. Much of what gets our attention when we take the time to think about it is what Jesus is addressing in today’s Gospel, negative judgments.
Jesus said to his disciples: “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye” (Mt 7:4-5).
There are positive judgments that bring about effective change for the good. In a court case, our hope is that the judge is learned in the law and guides the lawyers and jury in ways of sound judgment such that justice with mercy is served. For us to do likewise in our everyday interactions with one another, Jesus shares that we need to remove the wooden beam from our eye first before we are able to remove the splinter in another’s.
Jesus is leading us to experience transformation. He is inviting us to change our hearts such that they are no longer hardened by negative judgments of others based on our biases and prejudices, but softened, such that they are open to the mercy and love of Jesus. This does not mean that we accept any and all behaviors, actions, and inactions from ourselves and others. Jesus does not do this either. Jesus accepts ALL people as we are and where we are, with mercy. He is willing to enter our chaos, to embrace any and ALL of us who will receive the invitation of his healing embrace, and through his love Jesus accompanies and walks with us, leading us from our slavery of sin to that which is True, Good, and Beautiful.
We participate in the life of Jesus when we allow him to heal us from our own limitations of self-centered perceptions, from the denial and suppression of our anxieties and fears that lead to the developing of our biases and prejudices. Then we will begin to see others as God sees them, as human beings endowed with dignity because ALL people have been created in the image and likeness of God.
We participate in making our realm of influence a better place when we allow God to love and to bestow his mercy upon others through us. We participate in Jesus’ work of redemption when our judgments toward ourselves and others are not condemnations but convictions that help to empower, build, and lift up our brothers and sisters.
We participate in taking the log out of our own eye and assisting to remove the splinter in another’s eye when we are willing to admit our shortcomings, weaknesses, and failures, and then learn and grow from those experiences. We are then in a better position to be able to accompany others in their own chaos, to journey side by side, willing to help each other to be transformed into who God is calling us to be.
These steps will begin when we are willing to lay down our gavels of judgment, biases, and prejudices and instead, with open hearts on fire with the love and mercy of the Holy Spirit, offer our hands to one another with an invitation to walk hand in hand, arm in arm, so to be about building each other up.
Photo: Summer seminarian program with Fr. Daniel and my seminarian brothers, hiking in Glenville area of SC.