Fr. John Whiteford's blog has a worthwhile post on the often used phrase "Judge not, lest ye be judged." My problem with its contemporary usage is, as emboldened below, that a blanket condemnation of all judgements would seem to make mutes of us all - unable to call the spade before us a spade. This is certainly not a quality we find in the hagiographies that line our home libraries or permeate our services nor is it reflective of the other exhortations of Christ.
Truthfully, I find this quick response to the perceived slights of the offending party to be a knee-jerk reaction made socially acceptable only by usage of the above phrase as an aphorism. The Gospel-in-pericope method of Scriptural exegesis rarely benefits anyone, and, more often than not, distorts the original intent. It distorts it to such an extent that the new popular meaning can expunge the traditional understanding entirely as it has done here.
This phrase, in contemporary parlance, is now the squelcher of all moral declarations. It seeks to silence all pronouncements on the sins of others and is often accompanied by some sort of false equivlancy that wants to remind you of how imperfect you are. As an example:
Todd: We really don't know all the facts and Judge not, lest ye be judged after all. I remember that you and Judy weren't married when she moved in with you during college.
Is John at fault for pointing out the misdeeds of Charles and the poor example it sets? Would he be a better or worse judge of the cost of such a decision having made it himself in the past? Did Christ intend His words to mean that a sin should not be named if the person pointing it out is imperfect?
Rhetorical questions aside, I think we have all had a discussion of this sort at one time or another. We should be prepared to place the passage in its proper context and disabuse the person of the idea that Christ wants the faithful to sit on their hands while the world dances in its own debauchery.
I'm delighted to see such a timely post from Fr. John and hope you'll read the post in its entirety on his blog.
Just about any time there is a discussion about a moral question, in which any reference is made to what the Scriptures or the teachings of the Church say on the issue, you will inevitably hear this passage is cited. And when it is cited, it is almost always used to shut down any discussion of what is right and wrong, and the assumption seems to be that everyone get's to decide for themselves what they believe to be moral, and no one else has any right to challenge the conclusions of anyone else. You even hear this passage used in this way by Christians, and even Orthodox Christians. But is this a correct understanding of what Christ said?
Let's consider the immediate context of the passage:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye use, it shall be measured back to you. And why beholdest thou the speck that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the speck out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first remove the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to remove the speck out of thy brother's eye" (Matthew 7:1-5).
St. John Chrysostom goes into a great deal of detail on the meaning of this. He begins his homily on this passage by rhetorically asking: "What then? Ought we not to blame them that sin? Because Paul also saith this selfsame thing: or rather, there too it is Christ, speaking by Paul, and saying, “Why dost thou judge thy brother? And thou, why dost thou set at nought thy brother?” (Romans 14:10) and, “Who art thou that judgest another man’s servant?” (Romans 14:4). And again, “Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come” (1 Corinthians 4:5). How then doth He say elsewhere, “Reprove, rebuke, exhort,” (2 Timothy 4:2) and, “Them that sin rebuke before all?”(1 Timothy 5:20). And Christ too to Peter, “Go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone,” and if he neglect to hear, add to thyself another also; and if not even so doth he yield, declare it to the church likewise?” (Matthew 18:15-17). And how hath He set over us so many to reprove; and not only to reprove, but also to punish? For him that hearkens to none of these, He hath commanded to be “as a heathen man and a publican” (Matthew 18:17). And how gave He them the keys also? since if they are not to judge, they will be without authority in any matter, and in vain have they received the power to bind and to loose (Matthew 16:19; John 20:23). Homily 23 on the Gospel of St Matthew
St. John then points out that no household could function, and no society could maintain order if this were taken to mean that we should exercise no judgment of any kind, and then he says:
"But if to many of the less attentive, it seem yet rather obscure [i.e., the meaning of this passage], I will endeavor to explain it from the beginning. In this place, then, as it seems at least to me, He doth not simply command us not to judge any of men’s sins, neither doth He simply forbid the doing of such a thing, but to them that are full of innumerable ills, and are trampling upon other men for trifles. And I think that certain Jews too are here hinted at, for that while they were bitter accusing their neighbors for small faults, and such as came to nothing, they were themselves insensibly committing deadly sins...