Reading I: Ezekiel 33:7-9
Reading II: Romans 13:8-10
GOSPEL: Matthew 18:15-20
The Morality Police
I’d venture to guess that every one of us has known at least one judgmental, self-righteous individual during our lives. In fact, perhaps we even fit that description ourselves from time to time. On the surface, this Sunday’s gospel reading may seem to support such behavior – that’s why we need to look a little deeper. In spite of what some may think, Jesus did not intend for any of us to be the “morality police”.
Pointing Out Faults
“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault…” (Matthew 18:15)
At first glance, Jesus appears to be telling his disciples to point out the faults in others. And unfortunately, it is a tactic used far to often by over-zealous Christians of all denominations. It’s as if being judgmental is a calling for them, and they go about it with a vicious glee.
Often, what these people are really doing is building themselves up by tearing others down – much the way a bully will pick on a classmate in order to feel superior. These people build their own self-esteem by berating others. “I am okay because my faults pale in comparison to yours.” It’s like trying to feel thin by finding other people with a weight problem, and telling them they need to diet.
Jesus’ words, however, are not so shallow. This Sunday’s readings show that it’s our intent that truly makes the difference.
Motive Is Key
I have never met a judgmental, self-righteous person who was completely motivated by love for the person he or she was condemning. Of course, that’s an easy statement to make because, by definition, such a person could not exist. You cannot act out of love for another and be judgmental about the situation. To act out of love is to be respectful, accepting, and treat the other person as if he or she is truly worthy of being loved. Being judgmental is exactly the opposite behavior. It is disrespectful, not accepting, and usually treats the other person with contempt or disgust.
A perfect example is the way in which many Christians treat homosexuals. I have heard people who are otherwise seemingly caring, loving, and generous say things such as, “What the bishops need to do is get all of the queers out of the priesthood. They’re sick, and we need to pray that they can be kept away from our children.”
Without debating the other obvious issues, what does this statement say about the speaker’s motives? Is this statement accepting? Respectful? Loving? Nonjudgmental? The answer, of course, is a resounding “no” on all counts. Such statements come from thoughts and feelings that are definitely not motivated by love, but rather by contempt. Would Jesus ever say such a thing?
Let’s be clear – passing judgment and being judgmental are two very different things. Jesus is the only one who can truly pass judgment and do so out of complete and total love. He loves each and every one of us so much – even the wicked of the world – that he suffered and died for our sins. You can’t get more nonjudgmental than that!
Saint Paul extols, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13:9-10)
Does this sound like a call to become the “morality police” for our fellow man? Hardly. If anything, it is a call to handle the faults and failings of others with the utmost care. I would even go so far as to suggest that it precludes us from playing judge and jury when it comes to identifying exactly what constitutes a fault or failing. It is not our place to pass final judgment. That power belongs to Jesus Christ, and we dishonor Him when we attempt to fill that role.
The Church as Judge?
It is important to point out that selectively quoting from Scripture does not make a judgment proper. Time and time again, people have shown that virtually any point of view can be supported by taking passages out of context and using a little creativity in their interpretation. Thus Jesus gave his disciples a three-step process for dealing with one who has sinned against you. First, address the person one-on-one. If that fails, get another person or two involved. If that too fails, then it is time to tell the church.
From our perspective today, the wisdom of this progression seems apparent. The Church holds the collective wisdom gained from two thousand years of being the Bride of Christ. Just as mankind’s understanding of science has grown over the centuries, so too has the Church’s understanding of the nature and will of God, right?
Well, yes – but it’s important to remember that the Church is still made up of people, so the Church must be careful when passing judgment – even when trying to do so from a position of love. Perhaps the whole judgement question is best left for when Christ comes again on Judgment Day. And when that day comes, what do you think His verdict will be for those among us who think they are the “morality police?”
What prejudices do you have? Towards whom are you judgmental?
What is something you deem definitely wrong? Why do you feel you are qualified to decide?
How can we confront the “morality police” in a loving manner?
Original article by Brandon Jubar, 2002 – 2020.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.