An umpire named Babe Pinelli once called Babe Ruth out on strikes. The whole crowd booed. Ruth looked at the umpire with disdain and said, "There are 40,000 people here who know that last pitch was a ball." Cool and collected, Pinelli replied, "Maybe so, Babe, but mine's the only opinion that counts."
Jesus said this in his great sermon: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." It is perhaps the most quoted verse in our pluralistic age -- well, partially quoted. We tend to hear just the "do not judge" part which is often quoted by people who know nothing about Jesus or the scriptures but just want to silence those who disagree with them.
Judgment is a human problem, not just a church problem. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what judgment is and isn't, but I suppose we should consider the opinion of Jesus -- and he's asking us to look inside ourselves.
The word "judgment" comes from a Greek word "krino" (from which we get our word "critic"). It means "to separate". To judge is to separate, but the word is a bit ambiguous in the English language.
There are at least two kinds of judgment: The first is to discern between things (exercising wise judgment between good decisions and poor ones). We need this kind of judgment to lead us through life as we sift through the myriad of daily decisions before us. The second idea of judgment is more closely associated with condemnation (explained a bit clearer in Luke 6:37). Condemnation is passing final judgment, a sort of declaring the worthlessness of those we judge.
Jesus is clear: we need to judge between things, but it is not our job to condemn.
Jesus, however, takes it all a bit deeper and again exposes our hypocrisy in exercising judgment over others. How can we remove a speck of sawdust from a brother's eye when we have a chunk of wood in our own eye? Do we think it is OK to judge others against a different standard than we judge ourselves? Do we think it is OK to judge others against a different standard than Jesus?
Here's what I think Jesus wants from those who follow him:
1] We need to discern between good and evil. The last thing we need is an unthinking church that embraces every idea that comes along.
2] We need to temper our unhealthy criticism & gossip. To criticize is to separate. "I know better than you" becomes "I am better than you" which becomes "I don't need you" and eventually can lead to "I will treat you like you are unneeded" or even "I will dispose of you". This kind of rhetoric, especially when I hear it in the church, is soul-sickening.
3] We need to let God be God. I heard an old preacher once say, "God is God and I am not!" It is certainly not our job to condemn, and I don't think he takes too kindly to us when we think we are God. That would explain the whole "...if you judge, you will be judged by the same measure..." part of Jesus' message.
The way of the world is condemnation & separation. The way of Jesus is mercy. A community of Jesus looks decidedly different. The world will be the world, but the church should be the church -- a discerning community bound by mercy and trust in Christ.