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Judgment in Self-Defense

In Matthew 7:1-2, Jesus offers:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

The challenge of living this guidance is that people cause us pain. That may be as small as saying an unkind word to us, or as severe as murdering one that we love. Do we not have the right to decide that those that hurt us should be placed apart? Do we not have the right to protect ourselves?

This quandary reflects an understanding of “judgment” as part of a legal process. We take the evidence of our experience and then organize our lives to avoid harm. The futility of this strategy was summarized by Martin Luther King, Jr.:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

Just because we push evil away from us doesn’t make it go away. It either shifts its focus to others, or bides its time until it has the strength to assault us again. This applies even beyond the grave: in a secular sense, punishing an offender heightens the stakes of wrong-doing, and so pushes the criminal to take ever greater risks. Spiritually, destruction of the body doesn’t destroy the spirit, which must return again and again until it finds a personality strong enough to heal it.

Jesus, as the healer of last resort for broken personalities, understood this with a terrible immediacy. He could feel the trapped goodness in the people that were judged by the Canaanite culture. Whether speaking to the adulteress or the thief on the cross, Jesus knew that they had been conditioned to the most vengeful judgment of all: the self-judgment that they were beyond redemption.

It is this spiritual consequence of judgment that I think Jesus is focusing on in this teaching. He speaks of other-judgment as like a “plank” or a “beam” in the eye of the one that judges. It is to say: “As we all sin, if you believe that your fellow sinner cannot be saved, then you also believe that you cannot be saved.”

Jesus is speaking from the knowledge that God can heal any wound in those that are willing to receive the gift. This is what he affirms again and again after healing transpires in his presence: “Your faith has healed you.”

What is most painful to me is reading the scripture of Matthew in light of the fact that Jesus did not write a gospel. He understood how the law had been manipulated by the priesthood to divide the people from God. In this case, those among us that have reason to fear direct contact with God use Jesus’ words to argue “You do not have the right to judge me.” They use the power of our minds to hold us in sway as they tear out of our hearts the love that we receive from God.

It is such that Jesus refers to when he calls those that judge “hypocrites.” One way of interpreting his inducement [Matt. 7:5]:

first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

is that the hypocrite will discover himself to be the speck in his brother’s eye! But just below Jesus also counsels [Matt. 7:6]:

Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

So he clearly believes that those the love honestly must protect themselves. So how are we to do that?

First, we should not judge, because in judging those that attempt to tear apart our hearts we are affirming that they cannot go to God for what they need. They do have that power, and we need to let that responsibility rest with them.

Secondly, we should recognize that nothing that Jesus taught requires us to surrender our hearts to those that harm us. But we have a part to play there. We should not engage in argument of judgment because it diverts our attention from our heart, leaving it wide open to plunder.

Finally, then, we should love ourselves. When the plunderer comes into our hearts, we need simply to say: “No, that is mine. I will not relinquish it to you.” If we stop acting as their drip feed for God’s love, they’ll eventually conclude that they have to go to the source themselves, or allow their souls to wither and die.

This law of natural consequences is far more powerful and permanent than any punishment that we could organize.

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