Certainly, I cannot be the only Christian who looks at some words of Jesus and sighs, “My faith journey would be so much easier if Jesus never said this!” Right?
I suspect, though, if I started making a list of Things I Wish Jesus Never Said, it would consist of most of the Gospels.
Simply put: following Jesus is simple, but it’s not easy.
One of the things I wish Jesus didn’t flat out say was “Don’t judge” (Matthew 7:1). Because, I do judge people.
I spent the most formative parts of my childhood living in the South where the phrase “bless your/his/her/their heart(s”) was engrained in me. The phrase is a “nice” way to pass on your judgment:
“Bless her heart, but she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed.”
“Bless his heart, but not even a mother could love that face.”
“Bless their hearts. At least they tried.”
The desire to judge my fellow human beings always lurks within my heart and conscience. And sometimes, it can feel good to pass judgment (albeit silently). That tendency is a defect in the factory settings of humanity and not just me, right?
Why do we judge?
Perhaps it stems for our very own insecurity and the things we fear we may lack so it helps us to establish ourselves over others — to secure “a spot” in this world.
Jesus tells us (in Luke 18:10-14) that a Pharisee and a tax collector went to pray at the temple and the Pharisee stood up and prayed: “God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.”
It’s easy to say, “well he’s a pompous, self-righteous jerk... bless his heart.”
If we’re honest with ourselves — while maybe we don’t pray like that — there are times we’ve had such sentiments lurking in our hearts.
I don’t think Jesus slams the door completely on judgment by saying that we shouldn’t have high standards for ourselves and those others. After all, he leaves an opening for us to help our neighbor with the splinter in their eye after we remove the log in ours.
Jesus tells us to not judge because judging may make us feel morally superior and cause us to elevate ourselves higher and higher via our moral Tower of Babel, unseating God and placing ourselves on God’s chair. Jesus also tells us not to judge because of what we do to people after we deem they don’t measure up: We cast them aside. We belittle them. We dehumanize them. We burden them with things to do/accomplish/achieve to meet our standards so that they can be “accepted.”
It’d be one thing if that’s what God did. But God doesn’t do that.
God looks at humanity and instead of demanding that we meet up to God’s standards, God looks upon us with mercy, grace, compassion and love.
“For God so loved you that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn you but to save you through him.” [John 3:16-17]
I am looked upon with mercy, compassion, grace, and love. God asks me to do the same for my fellow humans.
I’m invited to remember that, though we may not be in the same boat, we’re all experiencing the same storm. And we’re all just trying to get through it together and should help one another when we can. Just because you’re in a yacht and I’m in a canoe does not mean that I am less than you. And just because I’m in a canoe and you’re holding on to life floating on a door that clearly has enough room for two people (ahem Rose Bukater) does not give me permission to think you are less than.
The call to not judge, for me, is less of a reprimand and more of a call to be compassionate, gracious and loving— particularly to those we feel the desire to say, “bless your heart.”
The more loving I am, the less time I have to be judgmental. The more I seek beauty in the people I meet, the less I’m inclined to pick them apart.
The more I intentionally look for the image of Christ in everyone, the less I am tempted to dehumanize. Which, admittedly, is difficult.
But like I said earlier, following Jesus is simple but it’s not easy. That path Jesus invites us to follow, however, is the path that is filled with an abundance of grace, hope, joy and love.
Joseph Yoo is a West Coaster at heart contently living in Houston, Texas with his wife and son. He serves at Mosaic Church in Houston. Find more of his writing at josephyoo.com.