A Challenge – Do Not Judge!

Matthew 7:1-5 – Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

Click here to listen to this week’s sermon. https://www.buzzsprout.com/1778074/8667821

As I write this Reflection on Saturday June 5, 2021, I was reminded again, in an extraordinarily strong way, that tomorrow is D-day. In the local papers, there has been the very poignant  cartoon of Peanuts — the dog Snoopy, with a helmet on — slowly moving toward the beach to land in Normandy. So many years ago, our nation was united in a common cause to defeat the forces of evil that had pervaded the world. All of us struggled with the deaths of many friends and family, the persistent effect of rationing and the shared suffering for a common cause of freedom.

However, given everything that is going on now, we feel disoriented and many of us wonder if we have lost our moral compass about who we are as Christians and Americans. It is right to feel angry in the treatment of our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens. We should believe that, as humans, all of us are made in the image of God and are intitled to be treated with dignity and respect. But that is not the case! Chaos, conflict, carnage, and confusion reign in our communities and in our hearts. We know, in our hearts, that this is not the way life should be. But what should we do? Let me give a personal example about judgmental attitudes before we examine today’s Scripture from Matthew 7. 

Many of you know our grandson, Joshua. It has been almost two years since you have seen him. He will be eighteen in August. These past several years have been exceedingly difficult for our grandson, Joshua. Many of you know and have met Joshua. He is a very caring and sensitive young man, who is amazingly physically and academically strong — but, like a lot of us we can be damaged by hateful words. As a teenager, we know that teens can be very cruel towards others who are different than them. Joshua’s light brown skin comes from his dad’s Samoan lineage. His sensitive feelings come from his mother and father. How would you feel if someone asked you, what are you? what race are you? what ethnicity are you? These are not just questions said in an inquiring way – they are hateful and racist questions. No one has ever asked me what are you? because I am White, they know it. Our daughter, Amy and our son-in-law, Tai have been very loving and caring as Tai shares with Joshua, the racism pain that Tai has experienced in the thirty years as a Marine. The pain does not go away and is rekindled by the ongoing racism issues. Joshua was asked what he should do about the taunts and hateful jeers towards him — show love to them, unconditionally

We are at the end of the Sermon on the Mount, and we find one of the most challenging messages of Jesus. Matthew 7:1-5 is about being judgmental. We struggle with these verses all the time. We try to say that, as Christians, we are not judgmental, but we are human and no number of statements we make will erase our deep-seated judgmental attitudes.

 Do we make judgments? Sure! I do! and you do also! “I don’t think he is a very good Christian.” “I think she is smarter than he is.” “I like him, but not her.” “I like this restaurant, but not that one.” “I think the Ravens are the best NFL team.  “I think she is a good person; I think he is a bad person.” And then we encounter a teaching of Jesus: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  A simple teaching! Right? Well?  

How are we to interpret Jesus words? I find this teaching challenging, and so do many people. This teaching has been interpreted in different ways. Some people see it as an absolute and all-encompassing principle, which applies to any and all circumstances about people. They assert: “Don’t judge people’s behavior, adults or children, don’t judge their ideas, don’t judge their character, don’t judge attitudes, don’t judge values, don’t judge anything.” Do not say someone is wrong or right or that someone is good or evil. Why, because you are judging. Other people apply Jesus’ teaching selectively depending upon their personal bias. Some say Jesus meant – let judging be in the hands of the legal system, the court system and not the individual. And still others ignore it altogether because that they are stumped about what Jesus means. What does Jesus mean? First, Jesus did not mean that we should never make moral judgments, that is, judgments about people’s behavior.  I believe this is a gross misinterpretation of Jesus words.  Moral judgments are necessary.  Jesus is not saying here that we should suspend moral discernment or not be morally discriminating.  Jesus did not promote moral indifference or moral neutrality or moral equivalency, where everything is permitted, everything is tolerated, everything is equal, everything goes, it is all good.  Jesus clearly taught that there is righteous and good and moral and kind and virtuous behavior. There is also destructive and unrighteous and immoral and evil behavior.[1]

Did Jesus make judgments about people? Yes! Jesus quoted the 10 commandments which deals with worship and ethical behavior in regard to stealing, murder, coveting and adultery. Jesus said: “Whenever you pray do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to stand and pray in the synagogue so others may see them.” Jesus told the men who brought the woman caught in adultery before him: “Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone,” and he said to the adulterous woman, “Do they condemn you, I do not. Go and sin no more.”  Clearly, Jesus teaches that making moral judgments about people is right and necessary.

Second, Jesus did not mean that we should not evaluate or appraise each other’s character or talents or gifts or abilities or qualifications. Jesus chose certain people as his disciples, but not others. The early church discerned who should be deacons and elders based upon their spiritual gifts, wisdom, and the call of God.  We rightfully make judgments about business partners or marriage partners or doctors or lawyers or teachers or pastors. 

So, then what does Jesus mean? We get a clue from his words. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. You hypocrites Jesus says.  Jesus is condemning harsh, mean-spirited, biting, sharp-tongued criticism which continually finds fault. Jesus is condemning a censorious spirit that tears someone down. Jesus is condemning the attitude of self-righteousness, arrogance and judgmentalism. He is criticizing being hypercritical toward others where one is always faultfinding and nitpicking. He is talking about misjudging and prejudging other people, based upon first impressions or appearance or some other criteria. He is condemning making hasty judgments about another’s motives without any knowledge to base them on. Jesus is condemning self-righteous judging, arrogance, being condescending, putting others down in order to feel superior. Jesus is speaking about hypocrisy, accusing others of saying or doing things that you and I do and say.  Jesus is condemning gossip which hurts and runs down other people, of speaking critically of others to bolster one’s ego. We get a further clue from the letter of James. The letter of James says: “Do not speak evil against one another,” that is to utter slander, to defame, to malign.  This is what Jesus condemns and says that we shall be judged by God for when we judge others in this way.[2] 

Jesus’ words get my attention! It is so difficult to be impartial and not be judgmental toward others. It is our nature.  What are prejudices after all? It is prejudging and stereotyping others based upon appearance, speech, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, education, occupation, income, or social status. 

Jesus is our model as we interact with others. He was comfortable in the presence of rugged fishermen and wealthy tax collectors, with both rich young rulers and poor lepers, with Jews and Gentiles, learned rabbis and despised Samaritans, businesswomen and women of questionable character.  I believe we need to recognize this flaw in our character, confess our sin, ask God to change our hearts, and to forgive us. And the good news is that God will answer our prayer. Jesus paints a picture in this teaching. About a person with excellent vision, 20/20 vision, who clearly sees the splinters or specks in other people’s eyes, but is totally blind, completely oblivious to the log in his own eye.  Dr. Peter Marshall was fond of saying, “Any time you point a finger at someone, there are three pointing back at you.”   

Our guide as followers of Jesus comes from Matthew 7:12 where Jesus provides a basic moral principle: The Golden Rule, “In everything, do to others as you would have them to you.”Jesus in these words espouses three basic biblical truths: First, every person is a unique child of God and is loved by God and has potential. Second, God is the ultimate judge. We must leave final judgment to God. And third, there is a huge difference between using our God given minds and hearts and exercising moral judgment toward a positive end and the negative attitude of being self-righteous and hyper-judgmental toward others.

Let us turn to God’s grace as we seek to follow Christ’s way – “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Amen
[1] Pacific Beach Presbyterian Church September 26, 2014
[2] More from Pacific Presbyterian Church