That whole “Judge not, that ye be not judged” thing from Matthew 7:1 has always been a puzzlement to me. (Being old school, the King James version is preferred.) But implying that not judging will prevent one from being judged just doesn’t hold true, does it?
In my life, I’ve known a total of three people that I never heard anything resembling a judgment fall from their lips. Two of them died before reaching the age of 40, giving evidence that only the good die young. But even these folks were judged to be naïve, innocent, or downright simple by some who knew them.
And when does what we think crossover to being a full blown judgment? Only when it’s said out loud? Lord knows, many of us have sat in airports, jury rooms, and doctors’ offices and judged like crazy without saying a word. I’m pretty sure staying silent doesn’t act as a shield in those situations as the ones being judged are judging us right back.
Of course, we can judge others and never reveal our thoughts but still alter our behavior based on the judgment. Anyone brought up right in the South knows how to say “Hello, how are you?” in such a way that the person one is meeting recognizes those four words are the only bit of conversation on offer. Our behavior can demonstrate a somewhat sealed judgment without offering any detail as to what it really entails.
I remember a Southern Baptist sermon on this scripture passage from years ago in which the preacher moved the focus from the first verse to the twentieth. “Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” He actually thought he was making a funny by encouraging the congregation not to judge, but rather to be “fruit inspectors.” What he failed to highlight was that this scripture refers to “false prophets,” not one’s next door neighbors.
While Jesus seems to prohibit our judging each other, the application of that in real life is really another matter. We’re constantly called upon to form opinions, make decisions, and choose our behavior to fit situations about which we have no experience. Whether we’re talking about one’s mechanic, doctor, or any elected official, isn’t evaluating the competence and credibility of those folks a judgment on our part?
Going to the movies to find the best role model of a good judge, one can’t do any better than Spencer Tracy. By the time he played such a judge in Judgment at Nuremberg, Tracy arguably had established himself as the greatest film actor of his time, with a full complement of credibility and conviction to go with it. As Judge Haywood, he gathers information both in and out of the courtroom before giving his judgment at the end of the movie.
Similarly, in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Tracy talks to everyone involved in this story of a proposed interracial marriage between his daughter and a black doctor, played by Sidney Poitier. The movie was filmed before the Loving v. Virginia decision and released six months afterward in 1967. Although he’s not playing an actual judge in this one, Tracy renders what sounds pretty much like a verdict in the final moments when, after careful consideration, he gives his full-throated support of the union.
So maybe this judgment thing isn’t quite as hard as it might seem. Getting the most credible evidence and applying old-fashioned common sense with a soupcon of wisdom should get one closer to the bull’s eye than hanging on to ideas that aren’t believable in any real world sense and coming to a conclusion after throwing critical thinking out of the window.
Going back to Jesus and King James, it’s one of the middle verses—the fifth to be exact—that tells us what we must do to effect good judgment. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt though see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Ouch! Did Jesus himself just call us out as hypocrites?
There are lots of beams and lots of motes that find their way into our eyes to prevent us from seeing things for what they truly are. Plus we’re living in a time of pandemic, political and economic uncertainty, and a general distrust of government, media, and each other. We perhaps we spend too much time thinking about what we want to do and the safe thing to do and too little time on what is the smart thing to do.
My husband can tell you that the more I talk about something, the more likely it is that I’m trying to persuade myself rather than him or anyone else. He invariably comments, “Who are you trying to convince?” and drops the mic.