5th Sunday in Lent 7 April

11Do not speak evil against one another, brothers and sisters. Whoever speaks evil against another or judges another, speaks evil against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge.

The New Testament has a complicated relationship with the Greek word krino. It is usually translated into English using the word “judge” or “judgment.” But the same word is used in at least two different ways.

In Luke 12:57, Jesus asks the crowds who are refusing to pay attention to the obvious signs of the times,

why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?

And yet in Matthew 7:1, Jesus instructs his followers,

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.

In English we use the word “judge” to carry both these meanings. We say, “Judge carefully which may be the best course of action.” And we ask, “Who are you to judge?” In the first case we mean pay attention, be discerning. In the second usage we are referring to the practice of condemning another person.

In both Greek and English, “judge” can mean “discern” or “condemn”. We are always encouraged to do the former, never the latter.

I judge to condemn when I do not want to judge to discern.

If I can condemn you, I can write you off. I do not have to take you seriously. You are wrong; I am right. You are bad; I am good. I am free of the nasty business of having to look at myself and be honest about the duplicity and darkness that lurk just beneath the surface of my own life.

It is no wonder Paul wrote in Romans 2:1

Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.

For every finger I point in condemnation, four fingers point back at me.

I need to be willing to see those four fingers and ask myself what truth about myself am I seeking to avoid, when I condemn the other.