Fr. Thomas Hopko’s famous 55 maxims contain four that I’ve particularly clung to over the years: “We don’t judge anyone for anything”; “Don’t try to convince anyone of anything”; “Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so,” and “Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.” Needless to say, I fail at all of them all of the time (and am right now). The following, however, is a reflection on these maxims for when I discover myself embroiled in exchanges that show the potential to turn heated real quickly.
I've noticed the habit among some Christians to justify their unkind words and scathing condemnation of others by pointing to a favourite verse—Matthew 3:7, when Jesus calls the approaching Pharisees and Sadducees a "brood of vipers." It is, however, not enough to point to Jesus as our example in such a wholesale manner; the more responsible thing to do is instead isolate what he commanded us to obey as the subjects of his yet unfulfilled prayer in John 17—that "as you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us"—and therein acknowledge that there's an imbalance in authority to speak so confidently. In this sense, Jesus didn’t tell us to imitate his brashness and confident criticisms when confronting untruth. Truth is not written or spoken, but embodied and ontological. To this end, Jesus has only commanded us to take up the cross upon which he was also enthroned.
St. Peter didn’t write, “For to this you have been called, because Christ was also unkind to everyone and exhibited a confidence that only God Incarnate could pull off, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps,” but instead remarked, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps” (1 Pt. 2:21). The Beatific Ladder celebrates poverty of spirit, meekness, mercy, purity of heart, and peacemaking because Jesus knew that our own frailty, confusion, and immaturity requires this of others and ourselves.
When Jesus said, “You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one” (Jn. 8:15), he was underscoring that we are all limited by the same finite constraints that confuse our judgment, and that he alone is unique in possessing a judgment that emanates from perfect oneness with the Father—judgment as divine Light (Jn. 3:17–19). This is a confidence that we should not trick ourselves into thinking we can have. When Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged” (Mt. 7:1), he was trying to warn us that our judgment of others will only kick-start a cycle of judgment, that his divine Light will expose this cycle of judgment that we initiated and are trapped within (Jn.3:19–21), that we need to look at ourselves only and our own need for repentance, as we are all in the same boat—not one above another—but that Jesus’ perfect humility and kenotic co-suffering love means that he is unique in his ability to step outside this boat and walk on the water in which I know I will sink.
Jesus is God and I am not. We are all in the same boat, but hell is a solitary place where I alone reside.