Are you building bridges or fences?

The phrase “Judge not lest thou be judged” is apparently the most quoted verse in the Bible. I guess the reason is that anyone - Christian insider to “pagan” outsider - can lay claim to at least some measure of understanding of what it is to condemn someone or at least to criticise them. So it becomes translated as “Back off and leave me alone.” 

Is that what the Bible teaches?

Someone recently sent me a gift. It was a t-shirt with “Love thy neighbour” on the front. On the back it developed the idea: “Love thy Muslim neighbour; love thy lesbian neighbour; love thy atheist neighbour…” I find it challenging and have not yet summoned up the courage to wear it when I’m preaching. What do you think?

When Jesus said “Love your neighbour,” he was immediately asked: “But who IS my neighbour?” And he told the familiar story of the Good Samaritan.  Samaritans were outsiders. The Bible noted explicitly that “The Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans.” Why not? Because they were different. Because they were perceived as less than pure. 

And so we arrive at the principle:  “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.”  (Matthew 7:1-2).

So what is “the measure you use”?  It’s the way you think about people who are different to you.

The trouble is we nearly always get it wrong. Not everything is as it seems, and sometimes although one person looks weak, they might be strong, and another person might look a tad peculiar, but he might be one of the kindest people you’d ever meet. 

Time is(as someone said recently) “slippery,” so we have to enjoy every second, love with all our hearts, all we can, while we can.  When we make judgements, we’re inevitably acting on limited knowledge. Isn’t it best to seek to understand?

Perhaps we hold on to our criticism (or even hate)  because we want to avoid dealing with our pain. Perhaps we believe that if we forgive too easily – or at all - we’re letting people walk all over us.  

Perhaps we believe that if we forgive too easily – or at all - we’re letting people walk all over us.

The trouble is that criticism can’t be isolated.  Eventually it sprouts up in our physical health, our belief systems, and our life choices. It’s like a computer virus spreading across the hard drive, corrupting the whole.  Criticismleft unaddressed will eventually mean a crash. 

When Jesus summons us to “be like little children,” he was calling for a radical reboot. Start again. Be born all over.

Our job on Earth isn’t to criticise, reject or judge. Our purpose is to offer a helping hand and show compassion. Loving someone can never be difficult; it’s when you judge the other person that everything tumbles. Finishing off with that James Patrick Kinney poem, The Cold Within:

Six humans trapped by happenstance
In bleak and bitter cold.
Each one possessed a stick of wood
Or so the story’s told.

Their dying fire in need of logs
The first man held his back
For of the faces round the fire
He noticed one was black.

The next man looking ‘cross the way
Saw one not of his church
And couldn’t bring himself to give
The fire his stick of birch.

The third one sat in tattered clothes.
He gave his coat a hitch.
Why should his log be put to use
To warm the idle rich?

The rich man just sat back and thought
Of the wealth he had in store
And how to keep what he had earned
From the lazy shiftless poor.

The black man’s face bespoke revenge
As the fire passed from his sight.
For all he saw in his stick of wood
Was a chance to spite the white.

The last man of this forlorn group
Did nought except for gain.
Giving only to those who gave
Was how he played the game.

Their logs held tight in death’s still hands
Was proof of human sin.
They didn’t die from the cold without
They died from the cold within.

If you withhold love as a form of punishment, who is being punished? It’s either bridges or fences.


Ken Baker is a writer and pastor living in Bandon, County Cork.