“Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:24)
Boy, is THIS exhortation not applicable for our own day! How we are quick to judge others, often judging the good as bad … and vice versa, unfortunately.
It is often said that people have a “public face”—the façade maintained for the benefit of others … and of ourselves. In a negative illustration, the hypocritical scribes and Pharisees that Jesus excoriates in the Gospels are a prime example: “…hypocrites! for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.” (Matthew 23:27-28)
Naturally, that verse has struck home a lot recently in the Catholic Church, as you know if you watch the news at all. The 1989 photo used by the Albuquerque Journal of an accused child-abusing priest just extradited from Morocco was of him in his priest’s liturgical garments standing next to a print of the Virgin Mary—the very picture of fidelity on the outside, but, if accusations are true, “full of all uncleanness” of spirit.
St. Augustine once wrote: “Corruptio optimi pessima”—“The corruption of the best is the worst” … or, in a bit of a twist, “The best, when corrupted, become the most corrupt”. Thus, the reason for the invective “Benedict Arnold” to describe a traitor, for the actual man was a successful and popular U.S. general of the revolutionary war who went over to the British adversaries. And this is why a traitor may be called a “Judas”, in reference to Judas Iscariot’s treachery toward Jesus and, by extension, toward Judas’ fellow apostles.
Sadly, we tend to all be on guard against deception and treachery simply out of life’s experience. But … neither should we be quick to judge harshly the motives and truth of another; this, too, is a great fault. The Russian axiom quoted by President Reagan is not a bad one to remember: “Trust … but verify”. Even scripture warns: “When you gain a friend, gain him through testing, and do not trust him hastily.” (Sirach 6:7) But, continuing: “A faithful friend is a sturdy shelter: he that has found one has found a treasure. There is nothing so precious as a faithful friend…” (Sirach 6:14-15)
Have not most, if not all, of us been guilty of judging another by mere appearance or manner … race, ethnicity or class … only to later discover that we’d been entirely and unjustifiably mistaken and harsh? How many treasures of friendship might we have lost due to unjust judgment and our subsequent behavior toward another? Did we lose a good and faithful friend through our own rash presupposition? Martin Luther King, Jr.’s sentiment is so very applicable not only to race, but to any external: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
St. James gives us an example (and warning against) unjust or rash judgment—applicable to all whether Christian or not: “My brethren, show no partiality…For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?” (James 2:1-4) Whether it be wealth or education or other extraneous quality, none of that touches upon the truth of one’s spirit—of our own, or of another’s.
We all know the uncertainty and even the danger of betrayal to which we expose ourselves when it comes to trusting any other person; such is the risk of humanity. But we remember Jesus’ warning: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2)
So, regardless of the actions and attitudes of others, be a good and non-judgmental person. As was reportedly written on the wall of Mother Teresa’s home for children in Calcutta:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway...
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway…
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you. Be honest and sincere anyway…
The good you do today, will often be forgotten. Do good anyway…
For, as the poem Invictus reminds each of us:
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.