Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Judge not, that you be not judged

"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 going through the Sermon on the Mount. We began the Thursday before last, with The Beatitudes (Part 1). We then continued to You are the salt of the earth - You are the light of the world, Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift, You have heard that it was said to those of old . . . , Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect, Your Father who sees in secret, who is in the secret place, Our Father in heaven - The Lord's Prayer, and Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Yesterday, Jesus taught us about all the things we worry about, about which we are anxious: What will we wear? What shall we eat or drink? He pointed out the birds, how they are fed -- and the lilies of the field, of which He said, "even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these." He taught us to "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble."

"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." Today we begin chapter 7, and it takes us into the territory first of judgment and how we practice that judgment. As He does so often, Jesus first offers us a conditional and reciprocal statement. We best be careful about our own judgment -- just as He taught that we are to practice forgiveness in order to receive it -- because "with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Again, there is a focus on the eye as an example He has used previously in the Sermon on the Mount. He said, " If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." And also, "The lamp of the body is the eye. If therefore your eye is good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness." So, the question here again is, how do we look? How do we see? With what measure are we measuring?

"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." Again, the emphasis on the eye, on how we see and what we see. Here, Jesus is speaking about our own shortcomings -- what we see and what we don't see. More importantly, He's talking about what we fail to see, what gets in the way. But is it our job to regulate the way others perceive, or to first turn to ourselves and realize "the plank in our own eye?" How can we help a brother to see more clearly, unless we have examined ourselves and cast out our own flaws that get in the way? So this first question here posed to us gives us our focus: as children of the Father, how do we best cast out that which keeps our eye from being full of the light, from seeing clearly? In that action and focus, we are then free to be truly helpful to the whole body of Christ, to our brothers and sisters, because we will be in a position to help them do the same. The focus is on what we need to do face to face with the Light -- not with others. My study bible says, "Condemnation of others and forgiveness do not mix. 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." The spirit here is one of helpfulness, not condemnation! My study bible continues, "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."

"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." But here, we're careful to note, Jesus teaches us about discernment. This is different from judgment, or judging others without knowing ourselves first. But it also continues in the vein about teaching and edifying. Those who don't want to hear what Jesus has to offer, His teachings, are off-limits. There is no point at all in confrontation with one who cannot accept what He has to offer. If we work at removing the speck in our own eye, we are in a position to help a brother or sister who wishes to do likewise. But those who can't accept these teachings are another matter. My study bible says, "Jesus warns His disciples to turn away from opponents and those incapable of receiving His message, and to turn toward those who are receptive." The emphasis here is on those who cannot respect nor appreciate the message -- not only trampling the pearls of Jesus' life and teaching under their feet, but also needlessly harming or destroying the messenger.

"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." Again, it is the relationship face-to-face with God. What do we need, especially in terms of spiritual help? These verbs, my study bible points out, are present progressives. That is, they tell of a continuous asking, seeking, and knocking. And the emphasis here is on everyone: that God's help and love are available to all of us who truly want it. Do you want to know what plank you need to remove from your own eye? Ask. Do you want this relationship? Seek! Do you want to grow more deeply in the kingdom? Knock! It is a continuous practice, always with us. My study bible says, "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."

"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!" There is an emphasis here on the assured character of God the Father who is love. If human fathers understand love, then how much greater does the Father in heaven understand what it is to give good things to those who ask Him! We should not underestimate the power of our asking, seeking, knocking, and the embrace of love that is awaiting our doing so.

"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." Today's reading finishes with what we call the Golden Rule. It is another conditional and reciprocal statement. It is another version of the command to love one's neighbor as oneself -- also a part of the summing up of the Law and the Prophets. My study bible points out that the negative form of this Rule is widely known in Judaism: "Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you." But Jesus' statement is positive, as is the emphasis of the whole of the Sermon on the Mount (as an expansion of the Commandments). "Jesus' form, however," notes my study bible, "is positive: this is the action which brings us to the God who forgives." And so it is with the entire Sermon on the Mount. These are the actions He asks of us.

Today's reading gives us several things to think about: about judgment and its practice, about how we are to find the plank in our own eyes -- before we can help a brother or sister to find the speck in theirs. Jesus teaches us about the importance of what we see, how we see, and how we relate to others. We are not to cast His pearls before those who don't want to hear, who can't appreciate it nor receive it. So while we don't usurp God's role as Judge, we are called upon to practice discernment. Again, it is a sort of emphasis on how we see, and the importance of this. And from where do we receive our sight? What wisdom, what light do we need with which to fill our eye? As disciples, we are to continually be asking, seeking, and knocking. We forge a deeper, stronger bond of love with God, in discipleship. This is the God who loves us, who knows love as perfect Being, better than our own father and mother know love, who knows better than our human father and mother what is best for us, and what good things we need. And Jesus' "greatest commandment" is fulfilled by adding the Golden Rule. We put our love of God first, and we add the Golden Rule: "Whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them." This is what we remember and take with us, in Jesus' positive pronouncement. Given His teachings about avoiding judgment, practicing discernment, and asking, seeking and knocking, we treat others the way we wish to be treated. All of it calls for discernment, for good sight, for our eye to be filled with the light. It is the process of discipleship -- and we sign up for a lifetime. Can we put it into practice? Can we do as He asks? Let us think today how these teachings form us and shape us, and guide our lives. Let us remember we are in the hands, and are assisted with the gracious help of Our Father in heaven.