We are called to be judges, but all too often we are unfit to judge.
In the same epistle containing his great hymn to love, St. Paul rebukes the Corinthians for not fulfilling their noble role as judges.
Do you not know that the holy ones will judge the world? If the world is to be judged by you, are you unqualified for the lowest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? Then why not everyday matters? (1 Cor 6:2–4)
Judging the angels is no small matter. We could not consider ourselves worthy of such a task. Yet, St. Paul points out that we are called to this lofty office. If we are called to such an important task of participating in Christ’s final judgement, why aren’t we making judgments in more trivial matters? If we will be entrusted with such great matters, aren’t we to carry out smaller matters now? We tend to wince at making a ruling.
“Who am I to judge?”—an expression often taken out of context—has become a platitude which crowns acceptance as love. Those brandishing it refuse to cast judgment on evil, perhaps because they recognize evil within themselves. In refusing to denounce the sin in others, they’re really loving the sin they refuse to relinquish or condemn. The results are catastrophic.
The Lord’s command, “Stop judging and you will not be judged” (Mt 7:37), exhorts us not to judge the interior of a person, i.e. the heart. That judgment belongs to Christ alone. We must judge the external acts of a person so that evil does not persist. We absolutely must judge, correct, and even punish those who harm the Body of Christ. Refusing to act against evil is paramount to acting for it.
Aware of the need for action, St. Paul exhorts the Church in Corinth to expel evil from their Church:
But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging those outside? Is it not those who are inside that you are to judge? God will judge those outside. “Drive out the wicked person from among you” (1 Cor 5:11–13).
This passage concerns excommunication, an action belonging only to the authority of the Church. Reading it, we learn an important lesson: the part can be cut off to save the whole. Earlier, Paul requested a hardened sinner to be handed “over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (1 Cor 5:5). Pronouncing this judgment, Paul seeks to protect the flock and save the soul of the transgressor. As a shepherd of the flock, Paul knew who and how he was to judge.
Like Paul, we too must judge, and we must be ready for it. In order to fulfill this role, we need charity, a perfection of the soul. The Lord tells us to remove the beam from our eye before we help others with the splinter in their eye (Mt 7:5). This calls us to be free of sin and united to the Lord in charity. Without this union, our judgment becomes hypocritical and the “Who am I to judge?” proponents justly judge us as Pharisees.
We’re left with two options: 1) Seek God, the merciful Judge, for forgiveness, live a life of penance, and take up the role of judge, or 2) remain complacent in sin and mute in the presence of evil. The first will have us seated with Christ, shining with His light in pronouncement. The second will place us under the judgment of the holy ones.
In the presence of such a noble call, surrounded by our own iniquity, and cognizant of our need for the mercy of God, we should pray: “Who am I to judge? God, make me into a righteous and merciful judge.”
Image: Nicolas Poussin, The Judgment of Solomon