"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 reading through the Sermon on the Mount, which began in chapter 5 with The Beatitudes. In yesterday's reading, Jesus taught, "Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But 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." My study bible says that we'll be judged with our own level of judgment because we are guilty of the very things we judge in others (Romans 2:1). To pass judgment in this context is to usurp God's authority, and indicates that Jesus is telling us about how we are to see others and refrain from judging with a sweeping indictment of the full person, rather than seeing error or sin (which we all fall into one way and another!). Jesus repeats the second part of verse 2 in Mark 4:24 and also Luke 6:38, each given in a different context. Such occurrences give us glimpses not only into Jesus' teaching but also consistency of message and application; this particular message was no doubt repeated many times. It is an important observation of a kind of reflexive teaching, particularly about judgment. So much depends on what we see, and what we are blind to. Just as we have been taught to forgive our debtors so that we may be forgiven, and to forgive others their trespasses against us so that we may be forgiven (Matthew 6:12, 14-15), here we also have a reciprocal teaching by Jesus regarding our own judgment.
"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." This is a teaching about correction within the Church. To be unable to see one's own blindness is to fail to be a capable teacher or help to others. And this is a teaching that precludes "judgment." To know our own weakness is the only way to truly relate to those who also need help with what we have experienced of ourselves, and the spiritual work we've done in following Christ.
"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." Jesus elsewhere uses animal symbolism (serpents and scorpions) to indicate types of demons and devils (Luke 10:19). Dogs and swine are used symbolically to refer to heathen peoples (Philippians 3:2; Revelation 22:15), but this would also include Jews who do not practice virtue. According to the traditional teachings of Church Fathers, dogs are those who are so immersed in evil that they show no hope of change, while swine are those who habitually live immoral and impure lives. The pearls are of course the wisdom of faith, the "inner mysteries" as my study bible tells us, including the teachings of Christ (13:46) and the great sacraments. Such holy things are restricted from the immoral and unrepentant, says my study bible, not because the holy things need protection, but because faithless people are protected from the condemnation that would result from holding God's mysteries in contempt. In another sense, this is also a teaching about judgment -- to correct or reprove by giving truthful teachings to those who don't want to hear it is to engage in entanglements that lead to a bad outcome; not only is it failing to cherish what is valuable and good, it will enmesh us with what devalues it. So there's a double teaching here regarding correction and edification: they must go where they are appropriate and will be received. Instead of judgment, Christ calls for our discernment.
"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?" Here the verbs ask, seek and knock are given in the present progressive tense: that is, Jesus tells us to "be asking," "be seeking," "be knocking." My study bible points out a synergy here -- that our effort is commanded by Christ, but is never separate from the immediate help of God. A note says, "We ask in prayer; seek by learning God's truth; and knock by doing God's will."
"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!" Human beings are called evil here not to condemn, but rather to contrast our imperfect goodness (mixed with blindness, sin or error) with the perfect goodness of God (see 19:16-17). My study bible says that if imperfect and even wicked people can do some good, all the more will God work perfect good.
"Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." This "Golden Rule," says my study bible, fulfills the demands of the Law and the Prophets and is also a practical application of the commandment to love one's neighbor as oneself (22:39-40), a first step of spiritual growth. The negative form of this rule ("Don't do to others what you don't want them to do to you") was already well-known in Judaism. Jesus' puts it in positive form -- as action that begins to draw us toward God. He will illustrate the positive form with the parable of the Good Samaritan, as well as many vivid teachings. Again, the reciprocal nature of our spiritual being is emphasized.
Jesus' teachings about how our own choices work hand in hand with God's favor or blessings give us a picture of our own participation in salvation. It doesn't diminish our understanding of grace and its role in our lives on all levels. Rather, what it does is give us a sense of how our own choices and actions work in synergy with God. Once again, as we have so often turned throughout our understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us a picture of the Incarnation. As He is both God and man, so He calls on us to recognize the essential nature of our choices in the relationship with God. We participate. We are included. We must watch how we judge: how we practice judgment will be reflected in how we are judged (and we must infer, how we will come to know our own salvation). If, after all, forgiveness is already extended in the teachings of Christ, I think His emphasis on our own choices in these teaches really tells us about how we come to realize and know that forgiveness. Just as we have been taught that we forgive debt and trespass so that we ask for the same from God, clearly the emphasis is on human participation with God in discernment and virtue. When we are taught to ask, and seek, and knock, Jesus is clearly giving us the "green signal" for our own efforts at coming to know God; to pray, to seek understanding of the teachings, and to do God's will become a pathway to the fullness of communion and relationship -- the real bridge that brings the Kingdom into the world. Above all, Jesus' teachings suggest an elevation of human beings in our own capacity to be "God-like" -- that is, to embody the virtues of forgiveness, of discernment, to do good, to come to self-knowledge, as well as our capacity to refrain from unjust judgment. Our participation in the Kingdom then becomes something bigger, heightened from a kind of isolated individual "good behavior." It becomes communion and relationship with God and with one another, an extraordinary responsibility we're given that only tells us how elevated we are in the sight of God, and how beloved. Switching from the negative "do not do unto others" to the positive "do unto others" is a sign of this confidence, it's an entry into a bigger choice, a participation to "be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect." It's an invitation to initiative, rather than just following prohibition. Can we meet the challenge? Are we ready for His confidence in us and in our capacities to live His word? Of course, what we receive in return is so much greater; and yet, so much hinges on our own "little" efforts.