Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Gospel Judgmentalism

Last Sunday we had the gospel of the prodigal son, and this coming Sunday we have the woman caught in adultery. These scriptures, for many, seem to bring forth homilies which, rather than speak to the gospel accounts, are exhortations not to be “judgmental,” and condemnations of “judgmentalism.”

It is interesting to note, that the words “judgmental” and “judgmentalism” are not in my 1964 two volume Webster’s New Dictionary of the English Language. It seems odd that if this is a sin, this word would not exist in Holy Scripture; so I’d like to look at the word (and a class of similar words) and what the word conveys, and see how it ties back to the Gospels of last and next Sunday.

At the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, there is a men’s prayer group that meets on Tuesday mornings from 6-7AM. Usually half of this time is devoted to reading and discussing the upcoming Sunday’s gospel. An interesting collection of terms was identified as being of the same type as “judgmentalism.” Tolerance, diversity, choice are the culture’s “virtues” opposed to the culture’s sin of judgmentalism.

These four words have something in common; their cultural meaning is not their explicit meaning, but an entire weight of accumulated ideology. For example, tolerance actually has two primary meanings; the first is illustrated thusly: a machinist is instructed to turn a piece of steel to 1” plus or minus .005” The measure is 1” and the tolerance is plus or minus .005” If outside the tolerance, it fails quality control, and is discarded. In other words, tolerance in this context is the acceptable amount of error.

The second meaning of tolerance is social; as in tolerance of evil. There are some evils that, due to man’s fallen nature, are impossible to eradicate, and hence we tolerate a certain amount of them because to eradicate them would cause more evil than what is tolerated. You will notice, however, that there is no acceptance of evil as good, or denial, that what is evil is evil. It is the degree of error that is permitted.

These four words, thus, carry a meaning in the culture that goes far beyond their mere and normal definition (and judgmentalism fails to even have this). These are words of the type that is discussed by Jaques Ellul in his book “The Humiliation of the Word.” Essentially, these words are ideological constructs which carry an emotional reaction. They are not actually words, but hieroglyphics; they are images, and images of the type explicitly banned by God in the Commandments. An interesting observation, and I believe he has an excellent point.

But let’s get judgmental for a moment.

In last Sunday’s gospel, the prodigal son returns repentant seeking his father’s mercy. This coming Sunday the woman caught in adultery will receive, not forgiveness, but deferred judgment. She will receive mercy when she soon thereafter appears to Jesus and washes His feet with her tears, drying them with her hair.

These are both extremely compelling examples of a broken, contrite heart, seeking to be healed in the fount of mercy. Dearest Lord, who could refuse one who came to us in this manner, who could have such a hardened heart, to turn on and reject a son returned, or to turn on one who abases themselves so completely at your feet? O my Lord, could my heart ever be so hard?

Beloved friends and family, mercy goes so far beyond justice, but without justice, there can be no mercy; and the time for mercy is now, the time for judgment is to come. The father awaits the son, with patience, while the son hungers for the pods given to the swine. He is ready, his heart yearns, bursting with mercy, where is the son? He sees him coming, and goes to meet him. The Lord desires to exercise His mercy upon us, he gives us time; the judgment on the woman is deferred, that she may respond to grace and by repentance experience mercy. What wonder is this; repentance melts the very heart of God. Who would not yearn with all their heart, that one who offends against them, would turn and seek their forgiveness, so mercy could be lavished as does our Lord? What sort of hard heart would rather carry and nurse the wound? Lord, never allow it!

You, O Lord, upon the cross, innocence defiled, surrounded by two thieves, justly executed for their crimes, objecting not to the injustice heaped upon you, offered grace to both, one of whom responded and reaped mercy in immeasurable quantity! You offer so much, you ask no more than the sacrifice of our pride, the free submission of our will; why is this so hard for us, dearest Lord, especially when you offer all we need to effect this!

Lets go back to the culture for a moment. The culture worships at the altar of TOLERANCE™, and one of the soldiers in the army of TOLERANCE™ is JUDGMENTALISM™. The idol of TOLERANCE™ is the opposite from true tolerance, as the goal is to impose by force on all that evil is not to be tolerated, but that evil is good, and that, in some cases, good is evil. Thus, those who oppose the empire of TOLERANCE™, by exercising the spiritual works of mercy and trying to help those enthralled by the empire of TOLERANCE™ to understand that evil is evil, and good is good, are labeled as intolerant, their crime being that they are JUDGMENTAL™, the exercise of the good, being placed under the head of JUDGMENTALISM™, the unacceptable ‘vice’ in the empire of TOLERANCE™.

For more on this, I highly recommend the article True and False Tolerance, by Philippe Beneton, from Crisis Magazine, 1996.

If we return to our two scriptures, you will note that both the Father and Jesus are equally guilty of being judgmental; the Father has absolutely nothing to do with the son’s abandonment; he can die in the pig pen, that is his choice; the Father would rather he return, but he is free to remain apart. Is this the Father’s will? Heavens no, and thankfully so. Does Jesus approve of the adultery of the woman? Heavens no, he tells her to go and sin no more.

Is it not odd that we go from these scriptures, to the culture, which has missed them entirely? If the Father had said, son, go back to your whores and pigs, would we be impressed? If Jesus had said to the woman, go back to your adultery, would we be impressed? Yet, why are we admonished to do just this?

He wrote with His finger, in the dust of the earth!

Dust you are, and to dust you shall return.

I will take away your stony hearts, and give you hears of flesh.

Call to mind when God wrote with His finger in stone. He gave the law to an unrepentant people of stubborn, hardened heart. He wrote this law in their stony hearts, hearts that did not love, and therefore, closed to grace, would not grant freely the submission of their will; crushed under the burden of law, desiring license, constrained by fear.

Yet God so loved His people, that He came in person, to write a new law into our hearts, to take away our stony hearts, and give us hearts of flesh, that animated by grace, we would discover the perfect freedom in perfect obedience; law does not crush under a burden the heart in love with God, because law is for the lawless, and there is no law against love.

But there is judgment, and JUDGMENT. One is prescribe, one is proscribed. Since all we hear is proscription, let us look at prescription:

Simon answering, said: I suppose that he to whom he forgave most. And he said to him: Thou hast judged rightly(Lk 7:43).

Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing and that there be no schisms among you: but that you be perfect in the same mind and in the same judgment (1 Cor 1:10)

But the spiritual man judgeth all things (1 Cor 2:15)

Know you not that the saints shall judge this world? And if the world shall be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Know you not that we shall judge angels? How much more things of this world? (1 Cor 6:2-3)

I speak to your shame. Is it so that there is not among you any one wise man that is able to judge between his brethren? (1 Cor 6:5)

And some indeed reprove, being judged: But others save, pulling them out of the fire. And on others have mercy, in fear, hating also the spotted garment which is carnal (Jude 1:22-23)
And some indeed repove being judged... He gives them
another instruction to practice charity in endeavouring to
convert their neighbour, where they will meet with three
sorts of persons: 1st, With persons obstinate in their
errors and sins; these may be said to be already judged and
condemned; they are to be sharply reprehended, reproved,
and if possible convinced of their error. 2d, As to others
you must endeavour to save them, by pulling them, as it
were, out of the fire, from the ruin they stand in great
danger of. 3d, You must have mercy on others in fear, when
you see them through ignorance of frailty, in danger of
being drawn into the snares of these heretics; with these
you must deal more gently and mildly, with a charitable
compassion, hating always, and teaching others to hate the
carnal garment which is spotted, their sensual and corrupt
manners, that defile both the soul and body. (footnote, DR bible)

Forbidden judgment is that which is eternal. My favorite example is "you will go to hell unless you leave the Catholic Church" - this pre-judgment of the final disposition of a man's soul, is similar to "You will go to hell if you (fill in the blank). The only way to go to hell is to die not in the state of sanctifying grace, and between commission of sin which destroys sanctifying grace, and death, there is the opportunity for mercy. Because of this, when Jesus said to love your neighbor, we need to remember that our neighbor is the one whom we will spend eternity in heaven with (provided we persevere to the end and get there!). Thus our neighbor may be our enemy today, as Saul was the enemy of St. Stephen as he was stoned, but together they intercede for us from heaven! Such an amazing transformation! Jesus prays "forgive them Father, they know not what they do" for the executioners who shed his blood, and they are among the first to be converted, to drink his blood! St. Augustine reminds us that Psalm 104 ends with "Destroy thou mine ememies from the earth" and we can pray this, because the only enemies we have are the enemies of God, and God destroys His enemies by making them His friends. God desires not the death of the sinner, but his conversion. May the desire of God's heart, animate ours.

(and that's my judgmental thoughts for the day...)


  1. WOW! That is a keeper!

  2. And I left a whole section out, which I'll address next week...