Judging Rightly – Br. Curtis Almquist

Luke 11:37-41

The issue that Jesus and his disciples did not wash their hands was not the Pharisees’ concern about the spread of germs. This is about ritual purity. The Mosaic Law defined certain kinds of uncleanness which required a kind of ritual washing to make oneself again worthy. The Pharisees believed that Moses received other commandments from God communicated privately to the Pharisees down through the generations. 

Many, many people were labeled unclean – because of their birthright (being a Samaritan, for example); because of their vocation (being a shepherd or a tax collector, for example); because of their poverty (because they could not afford to purchase a clean animal or bird for temple sacrifice to atone for their sins); because of their sickness (because they could not afford to see a doctor); or simply because of their humanity (for example, a woman who had given birth to a child). All these people, and many other types, were unclean. Whenever a Pharisee came from the marketplace or public gathering, hand-washing was required to ritually cleanse oneself, if only because of having accidentally touched an unclean person. Before and after every meal, a ritual hand-washing was required according to certain ceremonial practices. All cups, pots, brazen vessels, and sitting places also had to be ritually cleansed

Here’s a problem. The Gospel according to Luke reports that “all those who had any who were sick with various kinds of diseases brought them to [Jesus]; and he laid his hands on each of them and cured them.”i  Jesus touched and was touched by many people, which, in the Pharisees’ eyes, was defiling. Jesus miraculously fed the multitudes; however there is no mention in the Gospels about any ritual washing – of people’s hands or of serving baskets – either before or after the meal. Which was more defilement.   

Jesus and his disciples virtually disregard these outward signs of being defiled. The issue, Jesus says, is not with the outward; it’s with the inward, i.e., what’s going on within the heart.  He says, “It is what comes out of a person – from the human heart – that defiles.ii  The hand-washing should have been like a sacramental action: an outward sign, reflective of an inner change.  But it was not, at least not often. It was a simply a legalistic action that teemed with a disdaining judgment of others. 

Jesus is forever saying, “Do not judge.” Of course, life requires us to use our judgment, whether it’s to proceed with a risky surgical procedure, or whether it’s safe to cross the street. Whether it’s better to take a nap or take a run; whether we can trust a person do this or that. We must exercise judgment, good judgement, from the moment we rise until we go to bed. That’s not what Jesus is talking about. Two things. When he commends us not to judge, he’s talking about how we regard the essence of another human being. We – all of us – are children of God, with whom God desires to share eternity. Jesus is telling us not to condemn someone to hell, not to damn someone with the satisfaction that we are not like them.iii God is judge, and in God’s judgment everyone is made worthy of God’s love. 

Secondly, to pray for a heart to look on others as we hope God to look upon us. Jesus says, “Do not judge, and you will not be judgedfor the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”iv  Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, writing in The Gulag Archipelago, says, “If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”  

Lord, have mercy upon us all. 


i Luke 4:40. 

ii Mark 7:20-23. 

iii Luke 18:10-14. 

iv Luke 6:37-38. 

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  1. Margo on October 26, 2021 at 12:13

    Read again the revered Brother’s comments. Communities and people have to judge to live in a reasonably safe way. When people transgress the expectations (laws) they need to be dealt in an appropriate manner. Receive the judgement of their society BUT not be condemned as useless offal by another person who distances him/her self so far from them as to suggest complete otherness. “.. the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” When the abused person becomes conscious they need to forgive (as do their parents) or they will carry life destroying burdens. And this can be very very difficult and can take a life time of ‘repeats’ . Jesus says ‘forgive us our sins as we forgive those….” Somehow He supplies the grace to enable this. This has been my experience which I respectfully share with you. This reverent brother is always right.

    • Vivienne Lowe on October 26, 2021 at 14:27

      Thank you. I have forgiven. AND it was by the grace of God too. I could not have forgiven by myself. Holy Spirit has been amazing and very healing. I was even able to get the law changed because of our experience and helped to get video evidence available in the courts. I also had to challenge the way the news papers reported criminal cases. It was all God lead. I have had amazing experiences with God because of what happened to us. God is awesoome.
      I have definitely forgiven. It may not sound like it by what I wrote but I assure you I have. I wouldn’t be alive today if I hadn’t.
      At the moment I am more concerned about anti vaccine people who are causing all sorts of problems and taking no responsibility for the results of their actions. It is causing division in the church. Just what Satan wants and they can’t see it. They judge me. Just makes me very angry that’s all.
      Thanks for your concern and interest in replying. I appreciate it.
      Sadly no one is always right. We are all just fallen sinners saved by God’s grace.

  2. Vivennne Lowe on October 26, 2021 at 09:45

    So what am I supposed to do when I find out my child has been sexually abused by a family member. He went to court and was judged and sentenced. Is that judging? Surely that is righteous. I’m stopping an evil deed being done to my child and stopping the risk of other people being abused.
    And what about my friends who are against the covid vaccine? They have refused to have it for their own misguided reasons in my judgement. Now the whole family has covid and has put many many other people at risk because of their choice and behaviour. Am I judging them?????

  3. Laura Daniels on October 26, 2021 at 07:51

    Thank you for your insight and exploration of this challenging topic! It is a very timely reflection for me to read today as I wrestle with a hurtful interaction between myself and another member of my faith community. Finger pointing and condemnation are all too easy in such situations, so there is peace in remembering that it’s not my place to judge. An unexpected kindness toward the other person is welling up for me as I relinquish the human drive to cast judgement and sit with myself as another member of fallible humanity yearning to be nearer to God. Your words and all of the SSJE commentaries continue to help me tremendously. Blessings.

  4. Bryan Thompson on October 26, 2021 at 07:16

    Loved today’s reading. So very pleased to read these as often as I can!

  5. SusanMarie on October 18, 2020 at 07:49

    Oh, this is good, very good. It’s always an important reminder and imperative, but for me (and I imagine I’m not alone) especially important a few weeks before the election and after years of the most toxic partisanship and vitriol than I’ve known perhaps since the Vietnam War.
    Like David Searle, I have a few apologies to make today…

  6. David Searle on October 16, 2020 at 06:59

    Thank you Br. Curtis! Inspiring once again. I have a couple of apologies I want to make today …

  7. Barbara Liotscos on October 15, 2020 at 15:54

    I always look forward to Brother Curtis’ sermons.
    I get a lot out of them. Today’s reminded me of how I enjoy reading the mystery books of Faye Kellermann which open a window to let us see the devotional side of the purity laws from the perspective of a non-judgemental observant Orthodox Jew.

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