Condemn not

Archbishop Seraphim : Homily
Condemn not, that you be not condemned
Saturday of the 2nd Week after Pentecost
5 June, 2010
Romans 3:19-26 : Matthew 7:1-8


In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

There is not a word that proceeds from the Lord that is not important. Every word that comes from Him is crucial for us. However, it is possible for us to say that His words to us today in particular are important for us to remember because they are connected with how we live our lives. These Dominical words are connected with the Apostle’s words to the Romans which we have just heard. Our Lord is saying to us : “‘Judge not, that you be not judged […] and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you’”.

The word “judgement” actually has more to do with the word “condemnation”. Judging can mean several things. It can mean that you are simply making a discernment about something. That is not something positive or negative in particular. You are simply understanding and clarifying something, as it were. A judgement can also be something such as in court, when there is a judgement between truth and falsehood or a judgement between right and wrong. We often use the word “judgement” wrongly by equating it with the sentence that goes after the judgement, which would be a condemnation to a punishment of some sort. The verdict also can be positive or negative : is the person guilty or not guilty of what he or she is charged with ? If the person is declared to be guilty of the accusation, then comes the consequence (which is the “sentence”). I am insisting that this is what we often wrongly connect with the word judgement. We are using the word “judgement” in terms which really mean condemnation. It can be seen by the translation that we have been using today that the verb “to judge” has had this connotation of “to condemn” in our language for a long, long time. It is dangerous to misuse the English language. We can therefore misunderstand one thing or another, or we can cause a misunderstanding of one thing or another. It is no wonder we North Americans are, in general, so confused.

It seems to me that what our Lord is trying to get at here is the attitude of judgement which has the meaning of condemnation. This is why I would much rather say : “Condemn not, that you be not condemned”. This is really what the meaning is if you look at the context of our Lord’s words to us : “‘Why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “let me remove the speck from your eye”; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.’” Then you can help your brother take the little speck out of his eye.

These words of our Lord go very well with what the spiritual Fathers are saying about our life, and also with practical sayings that we have in our own language. In other words, if we are going to be damning someone for some behaviour or other, or for some attitude, then we are able to see and understand this, somehow, because we, ourselves, have experience of it. We are capable of making a damning remark or statement about someone else because we already have much of the same in our own heart. The saying connected to this is that if we point a finger at someone else, we will notice on our hand that there are three fingers pointing back at us.

If we are seeing something that is out of kilter in someone else’s life, we then have a responsibility. In seeing that something is the matter in someone else’s life, it is very important to look at our own lives first and to clean our own houses first, as our Saviour says, before we go about trying to help other persons with their weaknesses. The fact that we can see the other person’s difficulty means that we already have a house that is dirty enough. Let us clean our house first, and then we can help the other person. This is precisely what our Lord means by “seeing”. If we see a speck in someone else’s eye, then it is important for us to make sure that our own vision is cleaned up, and that our own seeing (in the heart, He means) is cleaned up, so that we can truly help the other person.

If our own heart is in a poisonous condition, then how are we going to help anyone else who is suffering from something similar to what we are suffering from ? We can see the other person’s weakness, illness, fragility or whatever ; but how are we going to help that person ? I consider that what our Lord is getting at is that we cannot help anyone else unless we have already repented ourselves, become clean before the Lord, and made some progress ourselves in repentance and healing before the Lord. Then we can help someone else when we ourselves are in a stronger position. However, if we are in the same condition as the other person (whose illness we can see), and if we are trying to help them, then the situation is precisely as the Lord says in another place : “‘If the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch’” (Matthew 15:14).

These words are connected to those of the Apostle Paul today. He is saying that the Law helps us to discern what is right and what is wrong. With the Law, we can see this more clearly. However, once we can see what is right and what is wrong (because of the Law), we are therefore completely responsible for every sin. He says to us that what is important is not obedience to the minutia of the Law, but to the foundation of the Law, which is a clear description of our Christian way of life : the way of righteousness. We will all, of course, have it in mind at all times that this foundation is love for the Lord with our whole being as a priority in our life. The Apostle Paul is suggesting to us that in the context of knowing right and wrong, and seeing right and wrong, our hearts have to be informed by God’s love, which is always righteous even though it acts in ways that we sometimes cannot comprehend. Nevertheless, it is always righteous because God is Love, and He is always right. Therefore, if our behaviour and our attitudes towards one another are informed and motivated by God’s love, then the seeing of right and wrong in the context of the Law can help us (in a physician-like way) to make a little diagnosis of some sort that can help another person who is somehow slipping.

In terms of one another, the whole purpose of our life is not to be cutting each other up because of the weaknesses that we see in each other. Instead, we administer healing medicine to one other so that our weaknesses may be healed and overcome. That is the challenge. How are we going to do this ? Ultimately there is only one way, and that is through intercessory prayer. We have to be carrying each other before the Lord in our hearts, offering each other up to the Lord in our hearts, and supporting one another before the Lord in our hearts. God’s Grace acts through us for the good of the other. In this context, it is important to remember that it is not I, helping and doing something so very great for anyone else. Rather, it is the Lord who is acting through us to help other people. It is He who accomplishes all good, and we are His agents.

Let us ask the Lord to renew the love in our hearts today so that our hearts may be more and more in focus with Him, in harmony with His love, informed by His love, enlightened by His love, motivated by His love, directed by His love, conscious of His love. Then, through the same love, may we be enabled to help one another in all our mutual weaknesses. We can do this by becoming healthier ourselves, and thus being enabled to glorify our Saviour, Jesus Christ, together with the unoriginate Father, and the all-holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, now, and ever, and unto the ages of ages.