At Mass recently we heard a famous passage, recognizable even to many a non-Christian. Pope Francis has riffed on it, and it is a familiar element in the arsenal of moralists of the ilk of retiring Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Jesus said to his disciples: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:1-5)
The common interpretation of the passage assumes that recognizing that an action is bad is identical to “judging.” According to this interpretation, it would be “judgmental” to inform the alcoholic that his addiction is compromising to himself and his family! The absurdity of that reading—obvious in the case of such an example—makes for an easy target; and it is healthy to occasionally remind ourselves and our friends that fraternal correction is not per se wrong.
But that is only a negative interpretation; what the passage does not mean. It does not mean that we should gloss over sin. But on the other hand, it clearly refers to a real problem (why else would the Holy Spirit have seen to it that those particular words were recorded?). And I suspect that, as with much of the Gospel’s advice, the words hit closer to home than most of us would like to acknowledge. Arguing about what the words mean for our current politico-social debates is safer than considering how they apply to our day-to-day lives with family and friends.