Friday, May 7, 2010

The plank in your own eye

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets."

- Matthew 7:1-12

We are continuing in our readings with the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon began with The Beatitudes, and has continued through the readings Salt and Light, Till heaven and earth pass away, You shall not murder, If your right eye causes you to sin, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, Your father who is in the secret place, Our Father in heaven, No one can serve two masters and Solomon in all his glory. Today, we continue with themes of judgment and discernment - what it is to have good judgment. The entire Sermon on the Mount is a teaching on what it is to be righteous, to live a righteous life, to be love in action. Jesus continues to emphasize the importance of our own choices in terms of how we treat one another, and the centrality of these choices to our relationship with our Father in heaven.

"Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." My study bible notes, "We will be judged with our own judgment because we, the judges, are doing the very same things that we condemn in others (Rom. 2:1). We ourselves have failed to unceasingly remember our own sins and lay them aside (John 8:7, 2 Pet. 1:9). Condemnation of others and forgiveness do not mix (see Luke 6:27-38). It is the evil one, the slanderer of all, who urges us to pass judgment on others. To pass judgment on another is to usurp a prerogative of God, who knows all things and alone is able to judge (James 4:12)." Also, my study bible notes that the second part of verse 2 ("and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you") is also found in Mark 4:24 and Luke 6:38, each in a different context. It notes, "Jesus no doubt used these words many times." So, clearly, these teachings are central to Jesus' message about how we are to live in righteousness, to practice righteous behavior in relationships with one another - as these teachings have been repeated in the gospels numerous times. I think it's important to understand that the words here for "judge" (in "Judge not") and for "judgment" (in "For with what judgment you judge...") can also be translated as "condemn" and "condemnation." We get a sense of what kind of judgment he is talking about here. The root word is not from the same word that means "justice" in Greek, from which the word "righteousness" is derived (as in Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness"). "Justice/righteousness" in the Greek is dikaiosune; but "judge" and "judgment" in this passage are from the Greek root krino, related to "decree" - to "pass judgment," to decide, to pronounce, to condemn. So, we must understand the subtleties in the meanings of the words to understand his teachings here fully.

"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." My study bible notes, "We ought to know our own sins better than those of others. The hypocrite sees the errors of others, ignoring his own, because he loves himself above all else." We remember that the word hypocrite in Greek (see Your father who is in the secret place) comes from the word for "actor." This is the inauthentic person, dishonest with himself and others - the one whose righteousness is a form of play-acting, not sincere. To know ourselves thoroughly - or to seek to do so - is an essential part of our teaching on what it is to be a righteous person. Jesus has preached earlier in this sermon about the essential knowing of the heart - "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." We are to know ourselves, and to find correction for ourselves - without this effort we are mere hypocrites and our righteousness is inauthentic. This involves the practice of humility, rather than the self-centered arrogance of the hypocrite who lives for appearance and image before others - and whose worship (treasure) of false front or public/social image is a form of idolatry that leads to projection onto others. It all depends on what our highest priorities are - what is our treasure.

"Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces." My study bible notes, "Jesus warns his disciples to turn away from opponents and those incapable of receiving his message (1 Cor. 2:14), and to turn toward those who are receptive (10:13, 14). Dogs and swine refer to heathen peoples (Phil 3:2; Rev. 22:15), but here Jesus' own Jewish contemporaries are not excluded. According to the Church Fathers, dogs are those so deeply immersed in godlessness that they show no hope of change, while swine are those who habitually live an unchaste and immoral life-style. The pearls are Christ's teachings (13:46), or the "inner mysteries" of the Christian faith, particularly the Eucharist." I think it's important that we remember that Jesus is talking to his disciples - to those who would be his disciples. I must admit that jumping from the earlier verses to this one at first glance seems as though it is a contradiction. But here we remember that what Jesus is talking about is using our discernment. This is not the same as practicing condemnation of others as in the admonition to "Judge not." One must balance the other. The teaching is not to engage in relationships with those who would abuse. If we are to practice self-awareness - to know the plank in our own eye - then we become capable of discernment. The two practices go hand in hand. It is the condemnation practiced by hypocrites that is blindness, the failure to know oneself and practice humility. But knowing ourselves also helps us to know discernment, and so here Jesus warns us about those who are incapable of grasping this understanding, and their abusive nature. Certainly, those whom he calls hypocrites might be counted among them.

"Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. for everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent?" My study bible notes here, that "the threefold exhortation, ask--be given, seek--find, knock--be opened, promises the availability of God's help. The verbs are present progressives: be asking, be seeking, be knocking. Note the synergy: our effort is commanded, but never apart from the help of God. We ask in prayer; seek by learning God's truth; and knock by doing God's will." So, our engagement with God is essential here. This is an active, ongoing, always-present relationship. It has no end, it is continual. And all of it fits together with a life of righteousness and righteous practice. We are to know ourselves, we are to change the "plank in our own eye" as we come to understand it and grow in that knowledge, we are to practice discernment - that is, "good judgment" and not engage in abusive relationships wherein our pearls will be trampled - the things we learn as disciples engaged in this practice will be despised and vilified by those whom we cannot trust. And through all this, an ongoing and active relationship with our Father in heaven. This is essential to all of the above, to knowing ourselves, to changing what we can change, to learning discernment, to gathering the pearls. All of this is couched in the life of active spiritual relationship, of prayer and dialogue in love. They are each inseparable. And this is a dynamic reality, ongoing, always at work with us and in us - it is continue throughout our lives.

"If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!" My study bible says, "Men are called evil not to condemn the whole race, but to contrast the goodness that is in men -- which is from God but mixed with sin -- with the goodness of God, which is perfect (see 19:16,17). If imperfect and even wicked people can do good, how much more can God, in whom there is no evil." We are to trust, and to grow in that trust in our relationship with the Father.

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." A note reads, "The golden Rule fulfills the demands of the Law and the Prophets and is another version of the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself (22:39, 40). The negative form of the Golden Rule ("Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you") is well-known in Judaism. Jesus' form, however, is positive: this is the action which brings us to the God who forgives." This is quite interesting to ponder, that the negative form of this rule was known, but Jesus changes it to a positive form. I feel that we often think in the negative form: "I won't cheat others, I won't harm others... because I would not like this myself." But what is that positive form? What do we wish for? Do we need love? Once in awhile, a good correction and discipline with love? Self-knowledge? Kindness, compassion, courtesy. This begins a positive expression of virtue, rather than merely refraining from harm. It is yet another expansion on the Law and the Prophets, as Jesus' words teach us, and in complete harmony with the rest of the Sermon. And indeed, it would seem that this is the whole point of his teachings about not practicing hypocrisy in condemnation of others, knowing ourselves, practicing repentance and humility, learning good discernment (there are those who will trample on our love), and the ongoing trusting relationship with a thoroughly loving Father.

As we set on our way through the last part of the Sermon on the Mount, we recall how these teachings tie it all together for us. The emphasis on the cultivation of positive virtue takes us back to its beginning, to the Beatitudes. The extension of the Law and the Prophets takes us to his teachings that expand on the Law in its various forms. Through it all, there is the emphasis on sincerity, purity of heart, and in that, our depth of trust and relationship to a loving Father. The admonition against hypocrisy and condemnation of others comes in the context of this relationship. Jesus has already told us that we are to be "perfect, even as our Father in heaven is perfect." So, the ongoing, dynamic relationship is a way of learning our own flaws so that we gain better discernment. All of it ties together in love, and the loving Father who teaches us this discipline. It all depends on what a person chooses. Where is your heart, your treasure? Let us be like pearls ourselves - pure in heart - and then we will be Christ's salt and light. We will be his disciples that he asks us to be, and to become.