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Speaking to the Soul: The question of condemnation

Speaking to the Soul: The question of condemnation

by Linda Ryan


But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’ — Luke 6:35-38  (Gospel from the commemoration of Elizabeth of Hungary)

There are times when  a reading assigned for a given day just doesn’t seem to have a lot of commonality with what’s going on in the world or in my life. It’s a struggle to try and figure out what the lesson is supposed to mean, and then applying it to daily life that I try to live. And then there are days like this where I find the reading from Luke. Given the recent events that have been going on in the country  and in the world, this one seems to cut almost too close to the bone to be comfortable. Comfortable? Jesus probably didn’t intend for there to be any comfort in that, because it is a tough lesson.

Starting at the very beginning, “Love your enemies,” honestly is like being hit with a baseball bat. Unfortunately, a lot of people are being hit with baseball bats, and bullets, and punches, and gunfire, and graffiti, and racial slurs, and 100 other things that are becoming more and more common with every passing day. The people who commit those crimes? Love the people who delight in hurting other people? Surely Jesus didn’t mean to love those people. Honestly, it’s almost un-human to even suggest such a thing. But, un-human or not, Jesus said it, so I am supposed to try to live to it.

The next paragraph is almost harder to do than the first. One can love abstractly, I think, but the condemnation? That is an entirely different kettle of fish. Are we supposed to love someone who abuses children, or commits atrocities against those who are poor, or defenseless? Are we supposed to love people who seem to reflect everything that we don’t believe in, that we feel is wrong, or that is hurtful to others? What does Jesus mean when he tells us not to condemn, not to judge? How can we do that, because every day we judge and condemn things and we feel justified in doing so.

Honestly, this passage is like a burr under my saddle blanket. I know I’m supposed to do one thing and not do another, and yet it’s so hard not to reverse them. It’s not that I hate the people who are causing so much pain and distress, it’s the acts that they commit and the harsh and hateful words they toss about. Do not condemn their actions of hate and disrespect? Do not condemn the acts that harm others? Is that what Jesus wanted us to do?

Sometimes I wish I had never heard this passage. It’s too hard; it’s asking too much. It’s asking us to be like Jesus himself, and Lord knows, that’s not an easy act to follow. Jesus didn’t condemn the people who hung him on the cross, but he certainly had a few things to say about them when he was walking on the earth

Sometimes he was downright scornful, and sometimes more than a little rude. We don’t emphasize that a whole lot, because we look at this paragraph and we’re supposed to love and not condemn. Jesus did. He condemned those who tried to get the best of others using power and privilege and position. We would rather think about gentle Jesus meek and mild, holding up little children and healing people who were not even Jewish. He did have some judgmental things to say to those who didn’t understand the difference between obeying God and caring for others.

This week it’s going to be hard to try and love some people. Honestly, I can’t say that I will ever love them. I just can’t. What they do is against every Christian belief that I have, and I just can’t let that go. So am I going to do? That’s very good question. It’s probably going to take more than a week for me to sit down and figure this one out. Still, I have to pay attention to the lesson, and I have to try to understand what it’s trying to teach me.

In the meantime, I wish all the people of the world, not just this country, would be kind to each other and let us all catch our breaths while we try to figure out how to do the best we can with what we are given, and how to bring about the kingdom of God on this earth and which is so sorely needed.



Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale.


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leslie marshall

…to me, I’ve distilled ‘loving my enemy’ down to this…. “I sincerely want what is best for them, without any guile.”

…another way to love your enemies…”Love always protects.”

I find that actually doing something loving is helpful (rather than just wrestling with my conflicting thoughts.). Which makes sense, because Jesus was a man of action, not one to sit around, and constantly weigh things.

David Allen

I heard at a forum meeting recently for a parish that has struggled with issues for almost the past three years that have caused division and even driven some folks away. The forum was about how Christians should interact and treat one another, even when in disagreement. One of the things that the facilitator said, that has stuck with me, was that you can treat someone with kindness & respect, even when you don’t respect them.

leslie marshall

yeah, I like that. Kind & respectful, even if you don’t respect them. Makes sense.

Gregory Orloff

Love is really not so much an emotion, but a behavior — not a matter of always feeling warm and fuzzy fondness for others, but rather a matter of doing right by others and treating them kindly and respectfully out of goodwill toward them. As Paul wrote, “Love does nothing bad to others” (Romans 13:10) — which is a pretty handy baseline for discerning love. Think of it this way: there are moments when a spouse may act like a jerk, the kids may behave like brats and siblings may be a thorn in the side, and it irks us — but chances are few of us would say we’ve really stopped loving them in those instances. We still do right by them and treat them kindly and respectfully, even amid disagreement, out of a basic sense of goodwill toward them.

Elizabeth Weiser

I believe this laid out the dilemma well, but I’m hesitant to reduce it to “love the sinner hate the sin” for two reasons: first, for the potential already described: “loving you means not trying to make you what I want you to be.” But if you are committing heinous acts, I *do* want you to become different, no? Jesus didn’t tell the powerful “I hate you” but he did say “Change”–and not just change actions, change hearts. Asking people to take responsibility for the consequences of their actions IS asking them to change their heart. My friends who voted differently keep throwing “don’t condemn” around like it’s a get out of jail free card, and I don’t think that’s it’s meaning, as the reflection above notes. Second, “hate the sin” can be so passive. I can prove I hate the sin by posting to friendly audiences like here, showing you all I’m one of the good ones–my friends of color say they’ve heard a lot of their friends assuring them this week that they’re one of the good ones–or I can take the much harder step of acting to thwart the “sin” wherever it appears. I don’t even have to hate it then, I’m not focused on my own reaction, I’m focused on stopping the pain. I wonder if this is another way to interpret Jesus’s words–don’t waste time sitting around condemning things, focus on what love is in this context, and work for an increase in that instead. Sometimes that may mean calling people out so they stop spreading hate, sometimes owning up to our own responsibilities and vowing to change, sometimes envisioning love and working to enact it.

Linda Ryan

Good points, Elizabeth. It’s so easy to toss around “love the sinner, hate the sin” especially since oftentimes the sin and the sinner are seen as the same thing. Like shunning someone because of something they did (or they are that is beyond their control), it is supposed to show “love” for the person but what it really turns out to be is rejection of the “sin” — and the sinner as well.

Focusing on helping to take away the pain is a very good thing. It goes from the me-oriented mindset to the other-oriented one which very probably will accomplish a lot more than sitting in condemnation.

Still, some of us just take a little longer to get from that one point to the other. Like grief, there’s no timetable.

Marta Sigmon

This is not an original thought — but it seems to me that you can love a person, but not like their action. Loving someone does not mean that you must duplicate their actions, or that you cannot help a person they have injured. God loves us all — and He knows how imperfect we are. We can only try to love the way God does.

Linda Ryan

No, not an original thought, but one that was on my mind as I wrote the reflection. I am pretty sure I’ll never rate up there with God or Jesus in terms of loving people I think are inhumane, capable of and performing horrific things, and hurting one person or millions. I realize that’s just my position–at least right now. Who’s to say God won’t change me, whether in 10 minutes or maybe at the moment of my death, but for now I struggle with the “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” That approach has been used far too often on people I care about and who have been incredibly hurt by those very words. Too often they are used to mean, “I will love you if you change to suit my beliefs, but until then, I love you but not enough to accept you as you are.”

Just my $0.49 after taxes. I realize other viewpoints may differ considerably.

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