Taking Advent on Its Own Terms (2 of 4)

Subtitle: Our Judgments (of others)

A meditation for the second week of Advent based on Isaiah 11.1-10 and Matthew 3.1-12

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symbol - judgment of others

Judgment. The word evokes, provokes in me two primary responses.

One, visceral. My inner voice of emotion shouts, “I dare not judge!”

The other, cerebral. My inner voice of reason responds, asking, “Am I, in the constant act of decision-making, not called to judge, to discern what is right and wrong, to discriminate between the good and the bad, and, even harder, to distinguish between that which is best from that which is better than the rest?”

Universalizing my experience, all of us, in the act of making daily decisions, judge. Whether our choices concern relatively simple matters. What to eat or wear. Or more serious issues. Our relationships, with whom and to what degree of commitment. Our vocational paths and avocational pursuits. The nurture of our children and grandchildren. The care for our aged loved ones.

So, if, when as judging we must do, better that it be with reverent reflection, lest we run the risk of rushing to judgment.

In the light of Advent, I focus on a particular kind of judgment. Our judgments about others.

Yes, there is Jesus’ admonition, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.”(1)

Again, my inner voice of emotion protests, more passionately than before, “I dare never judge!” And, again, my inner voice of reason responds, “Fear not. To judge is to criticize and, in the direst of circumstances, to condemn another’s actions, but never another’s character. Or, in the words of that olden, oft-spoken adage, ‘Hate the sin, but never the sinner.’”(2)

But my inner counsel is not helpful. For when I judge what you do, say, that your words and deeds have been hurtful and harmful, I am likely also to judge who you are.

So, I continue to ask: How can I…any of us judge? For our faculties of reason are flawed. Our experience, finite. Our knowledge of others and ourselves, fragmentary. Thus, our judgment always is tinged with ignorance and, perhaps, too, arrogance.

Nevertheless, life presents us with the job of making judgment. So, too, the Bible…

Isaiah prophesies the advent of the Messiah who shall come from the line of David, Israel’s greatest king: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” By the power of God’s Spirit, this Messiah will be endowed with “wisdom and understanding…counsel and might…knowledge and the fear of the Lord.”

This spiritually-gifted Messiah will impart royal justice, one element of which is peace in paradise, where “the wolf shall live with the lamb.” Another element of this royal justice is severe judgment. “With righteousness (the Messiah) shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.”

Judgment. Judgment of others.

John the Baptist declares that the coming Messiah will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Judgment. Judgment of others.

Would that we were so spiritually-possessed of “wisdom and understanding, counsel, and knowledge,” that our judging might be unerring. But when we judge, we err. Always. Therefore, judging is our necessary, though impossible task.

Yet, in my personal experience, I have one thing to be helpful. My awareness of my limitations.

I always judge with flawed reason, finite experience, and faulty knowledge. Whether my judgments pertain to simple or complex matters, they, always laden with ambiguity, leave me wondering whether I am right or fair.

In the dim light of my limited understanding of God and of others and of myself, I vaguely discern, given Jesus’ example and my inward awareness (which compels my outward admission) of my limitations, that there is one judgment I can make about others.

The judgment of love.

And here’s the hard(est) part. In the concrete circumstances of my life, especially involving my relationships with others, I am called to discern and to decide what that means, how I am to feel, what I am to think, intend, and do, which leaves me, at least, at times, (truth to tell, more oft than not) saying, “Thank you, Jesus(?)!”

 

Footnotes:
(1) Matthew 7.1-2
(2) “Hate the sin, but love the sinner,” though a common saying, is not found in the Bible. However, I can find a hint of the idea in the Bible. The Epistle of Jude (1.22–23) advocates being merciful to those who fall short of virtue while disparaging the results or spoiled fruits of their failures: Have mercy on some who are wavering; save others by snatching them out of the fire; and have mercy on still others with fear, hating even the tunic defiled by their bodies.

2 thoughts on “Taking Advent on Its Own Terms (2 of 4)

  1. Paul,

    Soooooo here’s what hit home for me! “I always judge with flawed reason, finite experience, and faulty knowledge. Whether my judgments pertain to simple or complex matters, they, always laden with ambiguity, leave me wondering whether I am right or fair.”
    I’m guessing that millions of people, myself included, who share this flawed reason with you!!

    One thing I’ve really focused on since Lent and am doing very well at it, is judging what I perceive as “aggressive drivers”! I drive a lot at times for very long distances and used to judge anyone hardly who cut me off or otherwise endangered me or other drivers. Now I give them the benefit of the doubt, praying for their safety especially if they are rushing to some sort of emergency that we know nothing about.

    On a person level it can be difficult to do that when you know the person even though we can’t be sure of their motives for whatever behavior we are judging them on. One example, someone I know well at church has since about 6 months after Tim died, continually asked me if I’m in love again and ready to marry. I’ve always said no, and the last time I did so he almost angrily said “you can’t live the entire rest of your life in grief”…we were both judging each. Yesterday I saw him again for the first time in months and of course he asked again. So, acting on the sermon I had just heard, I tried to respond in love, saying “let’s do this…when I meet someone I’m interested in I’ll bring him to church so you can meet him. Until then you can assume there’s nothing happening. How’s that??” He paused and said, “ok I guess that works!” I was proud of myself for not saying what I’ve wanted to say all along and tried to respond in love by saying, you’re important enough in my life that if there is someone to know about I’ll introduce him to you”….this judging stuff is hard!!!

    Love this reflection!! Love you

    Like

  2. Loretta, here’s where I dare to universalize my experience. You write: “I’m guessing that millions of people, myself included, who share this flawed reason with you!!” Nope, dearest sister, not “millions of people,” but (or so I believe) every blessed first to last one of us throughout time. For flawed judged, I believe, is an inherent aspect of the human condition, for none of us is perfect.

    As for your examples, which are wonderfully (if also painfully) illustrative of the reality that none of us fully can know the motives of anyone else (indeed, I oft believe…know that I always am not and cannot be sure fully of my aims or intentions), we, nevertheless, in the concrete circumstances of our encounters with others, are called to discern and to act in response. Hard stuff! Difficult business!

    That said, I did cringe a bit when you wrote that the person who habitually asks about your love-life, at the last time of inquiring and your responding that you were not yet in relationship, replied, “almost angrily sa(ying), ‘you can’t live the entire rest of your life in grief.'” I winced, for – and, yes, I am making a judgment here – it is clear to me that he (and if this is someone who was in community during my time, I almost can guess who he is) was judging you. (I am not sure that you were judging him.) He was making a determination that because you are not yet in relationship, therefore, you must still be in the throes of grief. As a pastor, thus, one who has walked with countless folk through grief and for many reasons and circumstances, I believe that it never is easy – in fact, it may be impossible! – to discern the degree of another’s response to turmoil or tragedy.

    Now, all this said, I love, absolutely love your reply (and, knowing you as well as I do, your voice, your cadence, I almost can here you saying it!).

    Your final word is, for me, gospel truth: “(T)his judging stuff is hard!!!” Amen. Amen. Amen.

    Love

    Liked by 1 person

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