Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn others, or it will all come back against you. Forgive others, and you will be forgiven. Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back…”

“And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye. (Luke 6:37–38, 41-42 NLT)

It is natural to judge. We are wired that way. When we see evil we are indignant, we are angry. We are quick to call it out. We see it as our duty to expose sin, to judge and condemn the evil we see around us. Surely this is a good thing, part of God’s image in us. We can hardly stand by and see evil triumph.

So why does Jesus tell us not to judge?

I believe that in this teaching Jesus was not talking about our response to systemic evil in society. He talks about that in other places. But here he was teaching his disciples how they should respond to the failings of others, the sins of the people around them. He says there is a wrong way to respond, and there is a right way.

People do bad things, about that there is no doubt. Over the millennia there have been many different ways of responding to this reality. In the last few hundred years the main change has been a move from punishment, to rehabilitation, corresponding with a major shift in the understanding of why people do bad things. In the past it was understand that people did bad things because they were bad. More recently, a new way of thinking emerged: people do bad things because they are victims either of other people or society doing bad things to them.

In contemporary Western culture there is now emerging another trend in thinking: some things that were always believed to be bad are being recategorised as good. And vice versa. There is in a sense a new morality, where the definitions of good and bad are being continuously challenged and adjusted. The most controversial new virtues are abortion, euthanasia and homosexual coupling – all of which were once thought of as bad, but which are now increasingly accepted, even promoted, as good. The new “vices” include racism, sexism, and intolerance, among others. Its a confusing world.

Jesus does not address the question of what is good and what is bad in this teaching that Luke recorded. He speaks to the way his followers should respond to the bad they see in the people around them, whatever that bad may be. And there is no doubt that people have no difficulty in seeing the bad in people around them, no matter what that bad may be. We humans are quick to call out the failures of others.

Jesus was different. Peoples’ sin was never his focus. He was more interested in relationships than correction. He often seemed to assume that people would know when they were doing wrong, without him telling them about it. The only time he challenged people with their sin was when they weren’t aware of it, when they believed they were righteous. But usually his focus was, how can I build a relationship with this person?

He challenges us to approach others in the same way. When we see their sin, Jesus challenges us not to correct them, but to love them. Not to judge, but to forgive. Not to hold back, to stand aloof, but to be generous. He knows that speaking out judgement and condemnation seldom brings change in people, and rarely builds friendships. Forgiveness and love, on the other hand, can change the world.

Forgiveness and love should be the mark of the Christian. But there is another way that we should respond to the failure of others, according to Jesus. When we see people sin, against ourselves or against others, it should prompt us to examine ourselves. Before we ever seek to correct or change someone else, we should correct and change ourselves, our wrong attitudes, wrong thoughts, wrong words, wrong actions. He uses this crazy illustration: don’t remove the speck in another’s eye until you have removed the log in your own.

Jesus is, in essence, restating a lesson that he had already taught his disciples: do to others as you would have them do to you. None of us likes to be judged and condemned, though we know our sin. What we long for is to be forgiven, and loved – restored, to relationships with each other, to relationship with God. Jesus understands that and says that we should do for others what we would have them do for us. Forgive, and give.

So, there is a way we should not respond to the sin of others: judgement and condemnation. And there is a way we should respond: forgiveness and mercy. Furthermore, we should not seek to correct others, but ourselves. The sin of the people around us should lead us to these two responses: forgiveness and grace, and self examination and repentance.

How different this is to our normal, natural response. But that is what Jesus specialises in: challenging us to be like him, and not like ourselves.

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