In today’s passage, St. Paul talks about judgmental attitudes. That is what I want to reflect on today.
Judgmental attitudes destroy relationships and communities. This was the underlying issue in the community in Rome. Judgmental attitudes were threatening the community. Judgmental attitudes create divisions among people: within families, among friends, and in communities. To live in peace and harmony with one another, we have to overcome judgmental attitudes.
Judgmental attitudes make you see only the flaws in other people. You start defining other people solely based on their flaws. It gives you an excuse to see them as less than human; treat them as less than human. You look down on them because of their flaws.
Judgmental attitudes are corrosive. They erode the sense of community and togetherness. They kill the spirit of those around you. Not only those around you, but they also kill your spirit too.
When you have a judgmental attitude, you can’t enjoy life. It takes over you. It darkens your outlook and clouds the way you see people. The only energy you get is from judging other people. It’s toxic.
From Our Hearts
Judgmental attitude comes from a toxic heart. A heart that is not at peace. There is some great unease and disturbance in the judgmental heart. When that disturbed heart gets triggered, it lashes out. It releases itself in judgment toward others. So the root of a judgmental attitude lies in our hearts.
For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. (Matthew 5:19)
Add to this verse the words “judgmental attitudes”.
The judgmental heart is very uneasy. It is insecure. It is volatile. Its sense of well-being fluctuates wildly. The judgmental heart often feels threatened. It fears losing its standing.
At its very core, the judgmental person is afraid that my life doesn’t mean anything. That my life is insignificant. That I don’t matter. That I am not loved or loveable.
In order to feel like they matter, the judgmental person needs to justify themselves. Justify their life. Justify their existence. Justify who they are.
With Self Righteousness, Without Peace
To survive, the judgmental person becomes very self-righteous. To be righteous means to live rightly. To have right standing. The self-righteous person tries to feel better about themselves by convincing themselves that they are living rightly.
The problem with self-righteousness is that you are righteous only in relation to others. You feel better about yourself only in comparison to others. You do the right thing compared with those who are doing the wrong thing. Self-righteousness elevates yourself by putting others down.
Self-righteousness does not give you peace in your heart. You are always verifying that you are more right than others. You are always measuring yourself.
Luke describes this story:
Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else… The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’ (Luke 18:9-12)
Most of us may not explicitly say or pray these things, but somewhere deep in our hearts and subconscious, we think in this way.
My friends, when you have a judgmental heart, you can only feel better about yourself by putting other people down. You can only be righteous by having people who are inferior to you.
Self-righteousness always separates you from others. It does not make you happier. It is futile and will never bring you peace.
Find Peace in God’s Righteousness
You can only find peace in your heart when it’s not dependent on the approval or acceptance of others. People’s reactions, their approvals, what they say – it will fluctuate and vary wildly depending on the circumstances. Our peace has to be consistent and reliable no matter what the circumstances are.
This peace is what St. Paul discovered. He found this peace not in his own righteousness, but in the righteousness of God.
The righteousness of God is very different from self-righteousness. God does not establish his righteousness by putting us down. He does not do so by pointing out our flaws or condemning us.
Rather, God overlooks our wrongdoings and shortcomings. God absorbs and takes on our weaknesses and failures. That is what Christ did on the cross.
St. Paul says:
God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
God’s righteousness comes from love. God acts rightly out of love for us. God loves us in order to restore our relationship. Self-righteousness separates and divides, but God’s righteousness reconciles and brings together. God’s righteousness creates the possibility of a new beginning together in harmony.
The Light of God’s Grace
God’s righteousness brings peace that removes hostility and judgmental attitudes.
The danger of a judgmental attitude is that it blinds you. It blinds you to the brokenness inside of you that drives your need to elevate yourself above others. It blinds you to the effects that your judgmental attitude has on others. It blinds you to your arrogance and lack of empathy that keeps others down.
This is why confession is such a big part of our faith life. We ask God to shine a light on areas where we are doing wrong. To take away our blindness and reveal our sins so that we can confess them and seek forgiveness. It is like requesting a spiritual x-ray from God to diagnose any hidden tumors in our hearts.
That was the prayer of the psalmist:
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139)
The scariest part of getting an x-ray is the fear of finding something unexpected. We see our sins not to feel guilty or ashamed. We see our sins so that we can see the greater grace of God.
When you see your sins clearly, then God’s grace means so much more. If you don’t see your sins, then there’s no need for grace. When you see your own brokenness, God’s grace becomes a powerful force that brings healing for your soul. The knowledge that God overlooks your sins to restore a relationship with you humbles you and changes your heart.
Our righteousness does not come from checking off any boxes. It is not based on what we do. It comes from believing in God’s love for me. Not a belief in my brain, but a belief in my guts and bones. From accepting a grace that seems too good to be true but is. It comes from knowing and trusting that God overlooks my sins to restore a right relationship with me.
God’s grace affirms how precious you are in spite of your flaws and weaknesses. It affirms that your life matters. That you are loved. God has made you beautiful. You don’t need other people to tell you that. You don’t need to check off any boxes. God has fashioned you and designed you in a unique way. Every day, root yourself again and again in God’s grace.
Grace opens your heart. It makes room for others. In God’s grace, you see how precious you are. That grace spills over and lets you see how precious other people are as well.
THAT is the key to overcoming judgmental attitudes: to see how precious other people are.
When you see how precious they are, you make room for them. You can still see their flaws, but they don’t trigger judgmental attitudes in you. Instead of judgment and condemnation, you feel empathy and compassion. You see that their flaws arise from some hurt in their heart.
Instead of a judgmental attitude, you develop critical discernment. You see their flaws clearly. You see how they might affect the community. But instead of judging them, you seek the wisdom to minimize the damage they do. In love, you try to restore that person to the community.
Restored With Grace & Love
That is what Jesus did. Zacchaeus was not a good man. He was a chief tax collector who got rich off the backs of the poor townspeople.
Jesus did not condone what he had done. But instead of judging and condemning him, he invited himself over to his house. His actions and presence of grace changed Zacchaeus. He essentially gave all of his money away as reparations for all he had done – to repair his relations with his community. It came not from guilt but from grace.
This is what Jesus said about Zacchaeus:
Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. (Luke 19:9)
Jesus’ ministry was to restore those judged unfit back into the community. This is the ministry we have been called to.
There is too much judgment and condemnation in our world today. Overcome judgmental attitudes. Create room for grace by living in the grace of God. Be people who restore others back into the community.