Not all judgment and condemnation come from the same place. It’s true that sometimes we judge because of feelings of superiority—moral, intellectual, spiritual. And sometimes we judge because of the power it helps us gain or hold onto. When I can judge you to be wrong, then I feel right in tearing you down and keeping you down.
But in fairness, some judgment can come, at least in part, from good intentions. While Jesus calls out some religious leaders for hypocrisy, and rightfully so, many were compelled to condemn due to their reading of the OT. In particular, there was a line of reasoning that concluded that Israel was occupied and oppressed because of sinful behavior, like neglecting to honor the Sabbath. Many thought if the people could get their act together and follow the Torah, God would raise up a leader (messiah) to raise up the people.
Nonetheless, Jesus continues to condemn condemnation and judgment, and for a number of reasons. We don’t know enough to be judge and jury, only God does. Further, in our zeal to do good, we can do a lot more harm, like pulling up wheat in our attempt to eradicate weeds (Mt. 13). When we judge, we elevate legalism over love and life. In the process, we ignore our own struggles (the plank in our eye) while obsessing over the issues of others (the speck—Lk. 6:41-42). Ultimately, it takes us away from the ways of God, which are merciful (Lk. 6:36).
So, Jesus offers both a word of warning and a promise of good news. The measure we use in pouring out either judgment or mercy, condemnation or compassion, is the measure that will be used for us. When we dole out judgment, don’t be surprised when it comes back to us. But when we trade in the currency of kindness, expect it to be returned in kind. In fact, you can anticipate God’s goodness to exceed that of your own. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap (Lk. 6:38).”