The Wrong Kind of Righteousness

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” 
(Matthew 7:1-2)

In my last post, I emphasized the danger of labeling people. As Christians, we are called to love as Jesus has loved us, and labeling is the opposite of loving as Jesus loves. I stressed the need for seeing others through the eyes of Jesus, suggesting that Jesus avoided labeling people. When he looked at Mary Magdalene, He did not call her by an ugly name, as others did. When He saw the woman who had been caught in the act of adultery, and was brought to Jesus for judgment, Jesus did not condemn her. In both instances, He only saw a woman who had been abused, handled by too many hands, who needed to know that God loved her, that she mattered to God, and needed to experience God’s forgiving and redeeming love. When Jesus saw Levi, do you think he saw a despised tax collector, a collaborator with Rome, or a prospective disciple?

It is important during this Lenten season, when we find ourselves on the road with Jesus, and witness His encounters with all kinds of people, to remember how He was always able to see beyond the faults, frailties, and failures of people; He was able to see their potentialities and possibilities—the persons God had in mind when He first thought of them. Jesus had a “faith vision” of people at their highest and best, no matter how bad they had been, regardless of their bad reputations. He was moved with compassion and wanted to make all things new in their lives. He did not point an accusing finger at those who were labeled “sinners” or turn away from those who were considered “unclean,” for He had not come to come to call the righteous but the unrighteous to repentance, and said it was not those who were well who needed a physician, but rather those who were sick.

Personally I find it very interesting, insightful, and instructive to think about this fact: There was only one group of people Jesus labeled: the self-righteous, those who considered themselves better than others, those who were not confessing their own sins, but condemning the sins of others.

It is an important biblical truth, part of the paradox of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, to recognize that there is more danger in feeling righteous than in feeling sinful. Jesus told one of His most familiar parables to illustrate this truth, the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee congratulated himself for not being like that other man (Luke 18:11). The Publican beat upon his breast, crying out, “God be merciful to me, a sinner!” Jesus tells us that he is the one who went home forgiven and “justified” (feeling “just-as-if-I’d” never sinned at all).

The fact that self-righteousness feeds upon itself has been amply demonstrated by many religious leaders, politicians, journalists, commentators, critical moralists, and self-appointed judges and jurors in recent weeks, since the presidential election. While not ignoring the serious problems, the critical issues, the abuse of power, or condoning the sinful attitudes and actions of so many in positions of leadership in our nation at this time in its history, those of us who are followers of Jesus need to be keenly aware of the dangers which arise when we become judgmental.

Who among us has the right to judge, and especially to condemn? Jesus warns us, “…with what judgment you judge, you will be judged.” Perhaps this word of warning is appropriate for those among us in the Christian community, especially well-known Christian leaders, whether conservative or liberal, who have become very judgmental. Could it be that the thought provoking words of Jesus to the religious leaders of His day, who had been so quick to judge (to condemn), are words that our Lord might direct to those of us who feel so righteous in our conduct, convictions, criticisms, and even condemnation?

“Let those among you who are without sin be the first” to condemn anyone else (John 8:7). This season of Lent would be a good time to remember that those among us who are Christians are supposed to be followers of the One who said: “Beware of practicing your piety before others to be seen by them.” (Matthew 6:1); “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”(Matthew 7:1); “How can you say to another, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye.” (Matthew 7-4-5).

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