Last week’s gospel ended with Jesus saying not to judge,
so we that won’t be judged.
This week the end of the Sermon on the Plain
gives us that pointed comparison
between ignoring a log in our own eye
and worrying over the tiny splinters in someone else’s eye.
Jesus’ meaning is clear: don’t judge!
But that does not mean we look the other way when we see
injustice, dishonesty, violence, hate, discrimination…
any of the many evils that beset our world today.
We have to judge when something is wrong.
That’s how we learn to be good—by looking at
our own thoughts and our own words and our own actions
and judging whether they are good or bad.
I think I was in third grade
when I stole a candy bar from Mr. Fligor’s grocery store.
I didn’t get caught.
I ate the Butterfinger.
And then I stewed about what I had done.
Thou shalt not steal.
I was sure I’d die that night and go straight to hell.
The next morning I ran into the store,
plopped my nickel on the counter, and ran out.
It was the last time I ever took anything that wasn’t mine.
I had looked at my actions and judged myself to be wrong.
I had, in grown-up language, discerned
that I should not have stolen that candy bar, or anything else,
and that I would pay for it and not do it ever again.
Over the years people have suggested
that I didn’t need to tell the IRS
about the free-lance income I get from writing and editing,
or a stipend from presiding at a wedding,
or a payment for jury duty, or for working at the polls.
But I report every bit of it.
The Butterfinger lesson taught me
that we have to judge our own actions.
We also have to judge the actions of other people.
If we see someone do something we know is wrong,
we can’t ignore it.
I was working as a pastoral associate in a Michigan parish
when I heard the pastor yelling obscenities,
went over to the office,
and saw him throw a full box of envelopes at the secretary.
I had observed, in my time on his staff,
his habit of temper tantrums and violent anger
at both parishioners and staff.
I judged his actions, and I phoned the diocese of Detroit
to let them know that he needed help.
There’s a big difference, though,
between making judgments and being judgmental.
A judgmental person rushes to judgment without reason,
forms opinions about other people that condemn or disparage.
That “judgment without reason”
is what Jesus saw in the religious leaders
who looked down on the poor and the oppressed.
It’s judgmentalism that we see in racism, nationalism,
misogyny, homophobia, and classism.
It’s judgmentalism we hear when our government officials
call refugees and asylum seekers “criminals and terrorists.”
It’s judgmentalism that we have seen
when our church’s hierarchy made accusations
against victims who reported clergy sex abuse.
Those are the kinds of behavior
that prompted Jesus to call judgmental people “hypocrites.”
After we have taken the logs of judgmentalism out of our own eyes,
after we begin to see clearly enough
the splinters in the eyes of others, what do we do?
Over the years too many people have just turned to prayer,
giving up the possibility of doing something
about the evil they see.
They don’t want to make waves,
don’t want to cause trouble for themselves.
We can’t do that.
Of course, we have to pray,
but it’s prayer for right judgment and for discernment.
It’s also a prayer for courage and strength,
as Luke put it today,
to speak out from the store of goodness in our hearts.
We have to keep on judging what’s right and what’s not,
and when we judge that it’s not right,
we have to engage in the work for justice.
Just like Jesus said, and just like he did.
He showed us the way, and our job is to follow.