The older I get, the more I understand that any rule I am given out of concern for my own well-being, is worth taking a second look at. Especially because such rules, at first glance, are ridiculously easy to understand, (i.e., go on green, stop on red), but many more, while just as easy to comprehend are far more difficult to carry out (i.e., while I understand a speed limit of 55 mph means that 55 mph should be my maximum speed for the safety of myself and those around me, I very often go 60 mph because that is the speed that I deem will keep me “safe” from getting a speeding ticket). Such rules, then, as we grow more confident and comfortable with the intention of them, quickly become something we dub to be “rules of thumb” rather than “hard and fast” rules (i.e., don’t drink and drive).
Many of the rules that Jesus gives us can begin the same way: easy to understand, but difficult to follow. Most recently, I came across this passage in my Bible study class on the Gospel of Matthew: “Do not judge” (Mt 7:1). And upon reading this, I was hit with two thoughts: Yikes! That sounds impossible! and almost at the same time: Thank goodness I don’t judge people as much as some people I know! (Read that sentence again if you missed the irony of it).
The truth is that both of my reactions to this rule are just that: reactions. And reactions, by their very nature, don’t take into account the larger picture of the reason for the rule. Reactions don’t cast light on the myriad of ways in which we judge others, ourselves, and even God. In fact, because I was so busy reacting, it wasn’t until I read the passage a second time that I was even able to comprehend the rest of the sentence–the part that explains WHY we shouldn’t judge– “so that you may not be judged.” (Mt 7:1)
I was reminded then of how, years earlier, I’d made a Lenten promise to “give up” my sins of judgment and jealousy. Now, I knew this would be a challenge, but I thought I could at least go a day or two before I would really be tested in the process of “giving them up.” Much as He always does, though, God had other plans.
Ash Wednesday morning, (a.k.a. the FIRST DAY of Lent), I had a petty thought about a friend of mine: I immediately “predicted” she would fail to “properly observe” the Holy Day by wiping off the ashes on her forehead after attending morning Mass. (As Catholics, we are taught from a young age that doing so is a big “no-no”). I’m embarrassed for having entertained this thought now on so many levels, but at the time, I didn’t see my “prediction” as a judgment at all. I merely saw it as a “logical prediction of future behavior based on past behavior” and all but accepted it as “fact.” Later that day, when I bumped into my friend, I was shocked to see the ashes still on her forehead. Shocked only because I’d been proven wrong.
After some introspection, (a.k.a. an inner tantrum-throwing fit whereby I attempted to vehemently defend my inexcusable judgment of my friend to God), I was able to be grateful for the gift of having been shown my fault. If my friend had behaved as I’d expected, I would likely have been able to go the course of the entire day patting myself on the back for having successfully “given up” my sins by having made no judgments at all. It was only in being proven wrong, that my eyes were opened to the fact that I’d judged my friend.
To this day, I think that being wrong about such a “prediction” of my friend’s behavior on the first day of Lent was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I shudder to think about how long it may have taken me to realize that I was judging someone else if my “prediction” had been “right.”