“Tom, you idiot. Right there in Matthew 7, Jesus tells us ‘Judge not or you too will be judged.’”
Yes, Sunshine, he does. And if you’re one of these simple folk who think we can take one line and make it the entire Gospel, you might be better off with something like the Greatest Commandment in Matthew 22.
If, however, you’re one of us who think the teachings of Jesus are more complex than one line, you might want to read the rest of Matthew 7. The rest of Matthew 7 tells us how best to judge people. And it’s not the only time he does it, he revisits judgment again when he curses the fig tree (https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=matthew+21%3A18-22&version=NIV).
True to form, Jesus tells us through metaphors how to judge. He admonishes us to “watch out for false prophets.” He doesn’t tell us exactly what to look for, but he tells us they are wolves in sheep’s clothing. How are we going to know they are wolves and not sheep? By judging their actions. He points out that people don’t pick grapes from thornbushes. False prophets are thornbushes that produce no grapes. They pretend to be grapevines, but if you look closely, they produce no fruit. They self-glorify and they take more than they give. Bad trees bear bad fruit; good trees bear good fruit. It is up to us to honestly examine them – judge them – to see if their fruit is good or bad.
Often we see leaders who claim to be doing great things, but what they do is self-serving. Jesus was a servant-leader. He served all who followed him, both literally and figuratively. He never self-glorified. Those who truly follow his teachings, loving all their brothers and sisters, know that this kind of love takes more than just paying lip service to messiahs and saviors. It takes hard work. It takes the soul-wrenching effort of loving even those we don’t like. It requires the realization that there is no “them” – there is only “us”.
How many times do you hear leaders – both spiritual and political – talk about those who are not one of us. This is a trick. Because we are animalistic, we fear those other animals who are not like us. Be wary of leaders who prey on your fear of outsiders – leaders who urge you to fear or blame someone else for your problems.
Another trick you will see is when they preach that you must believe or do things so that you can be one of us (and not one of them). You might hear these things hidden as rituals you must obey. Usually, they are the gatekeepers to those rituals. You must present yourself at (my) altar. You must seek forgiveness (through me). You must be baptized (by me). You must be born again. You must accept Jesus as your Personal Savior. You must vote a certain way. You must repent. You must observe our way of interpreting the Gospel, not their way. You must fear foreigners. Reject compromise because we are right so they must be wrong.
Does any of this sound familiar?
I’m willing to believe that there are some leaders who are themselves tricked into behaving this way, and that’s not good either. Just take care to look out for them. Maybe point out to them that Jesus wants us all to be as one.
Ultimately, you must judge them. Jesus himself wants you to.