Don’t Judge (September 16, 2018)
Matthew 7: 1-5
Thank you for that. We are told that if you judge other people, that you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you judge them, you’ll be a mile away and will have their shoes.
We’re continuing our series today on things God never said; the things that sound true but are not completely true, or at the very least sometimes a half truth. Today were looking at the idea that you shouldn’t judge other people. We are often told not to judge people because of the times in Scripture where Jesus says things like this passage: “judge not lest you be judged,” or “don’t worry about the splinter in your neighbor’s eye when you have a log in your own.”
The problem is that the passage does not stop at those points, but continues. And when you read the rest of the passage it becomes clear that Jesus expects us to make moral judgments about the world around us and about things that other people are doing. But they have to be done in certain way.
The problem is that it is uncomfortable to do that. It is inherently uncomfortable to judge. It creates conflict in our lives. And that makes us biased toward not doing it; toward finding something that seems to imply that God is letting us off the hook of doing it. But Jesus expects us to judge the world. It’s just we cannot condemn the world.
This is where the half-truth comes into it. When we say, “judge not,” what we’re really saying is “condemn not.” Judge is a neutral word. You can judge something innocent or you can get something guilty. You can judge something good or you can judge something bad. At the very least, Jesus is saying to be careful when you condemn. Be cautious when you condemn. At the most he is saying not to condemn things at all.
Do not be quick to condemn; or rather, when you judge, judge with an eye toward mercy. To put it another way: judge how God would judge. Ask, “If this were me having done this, if I thought that was a good reason for me to have done this, what would I think then?” This is like my approach to politics: when something happens I think “what would I react like if this was happening by a member of the other party?” Either if it’s a member of the party I’m not a part of then what would I react if this was my party, or vice versa. And then I kind of take an average the two of those reactions together to get the reaction I really should have.
If someone does something to hurt you and you think “this is how I’m reacting now, but how would I react if it were me doing that person did,” and the kind of try to average those two together, you get the reaction you probably should have. Jesus is saying, “when you judge, then judge in this way; with an eye toward mercy and a bias towards forgiveness.” There’s a lot of the golden rule in this.
I’m reminded of a phrase that I heard that has stuck with me immensely from a faith leader who said, “when it comes to other people, we want God to be a God of justice. We want justice to roll down. We want God to smite other people. But when it comes to us, we want God to be a merciful God who is slow to anger and is abounding in steadfast love. We don’t want God to judge us, just them.” And what would happen if we view the entire world as an “us” that we want God to be merciful to, instead of a “them” that we wanted God to smite. Be careful and slow to anger. But you still must make a decision as to what is morally right or wrong.
The key word I think in this passage is the word “help.” Jesus says that you must first remove the log from your eyes, then you can helpyour neighbor with the spec in theirs. Not “then you can go ahead and remove it.” Not “then you can rip their eye out.” You help them. And if they don’t want to remove it, then you move on. And maybe that’s a condemnation, maybe it’s not but you just move on and try and help the next neighbor with their eye.
I’m reminded of the story of Jesus sending out 70 of his disciples to go out into the landscape of Judea to visit the towns and to announce that the Messiah had come. He sends them out and he tells them to judge the cities they come in to. But listen to how he tells them to judge that city: he says to go into the city, to go into the square, and if someone in the town is shows compassion and hospitality to them, then they are to bless the town and to especially bless that person who showed hospitality, like you’re supposed to according to Israel scriptures. But if they don’t accept them, if they don’t accept the messenger, then they were to judge the city for not showing hospitality by shaking the dust off their sandals and then moving on. They were not focusing on it, not harping on it, not coming back to break them the next day, but they just moved on.
This is what they are called to do and the way that they are supposed to judge, and more importantly towards what I think what they’re supposed to judge. They were judging the hospitality and receptiveness of the town. They weren’t judging how they look, they weren’t judging the way they acted or the words they said, they weren’t judging based upon what had happened in the past. Rather, they were judging upon present hospitality to strangers. I wonder if sometimes our problem as Christianity is that we are judging the wrong thing, in the wrong way, and too many times.
The other major problem we in Christianity have right now is that we often do not walk what we talk, we do not practice what we preach. And yet Jesus was very clear in Scripture about the fact that you cannot be hypocritical. This is where the passage we have today really comes into play. Jesus says you’re going to be judged how you judge, so judge nicely. He says you need to make sure you do not have a log in your eye if you’re going to try and help someone with a splinter in theirs. He says this because you can’t see clearly with a log in your eye and they’re going to see the log in your eye and say, “who are you to try and help me with the splinter in my eye?” And you’re going to be detrimental to them.
Do not be hypocritical. Jesus’s major condemnation toward Israel was they had become hypocritical; they were condemning others for not following the law that they weren’t following themselves. This was his number one gripe against them. I have spoken with 12 step groups in the past that continually say that it is far better to have someone who has dealt with the problem that that particular group is going with for years help the new people to come in then to have someone like me who hasn’t really dealt with the issue at hand (in that case with alcoholism). It is far better to have someone who has had that particular log in his or her eye in the past, who has dealt with it themselves, go and try and help someone than someone who’s never experienced that.
In a lot of ways we as a church are called to be a 12 step program for sinners. We are called to help people who come in here with the splinters, the sins, in their lives. In order to do that we need to deal with our own problems, and I’ll get to that shortly. But you have a duty once you’ve dealt with it to go and help someone else, and that’s going to involve saying, “you’ve got a problem, and I had that problem too, but let’s work together to all become more perfect and more the way Jesus want us to be. Let’s all work together to let God’s kingdom to come into the world.”
And so we are called to help others with the speck in their eye, but to do so in a loving way. And to be loving when you’re helping someone with a problem means that you have forgiven them for whatever you’re helping them with. It’s really hard to condemn someone you have forgiven for what you have forgiven them for. You still make a moral judgment, but you’re not negative. It’s more, “I want to help. Let me help you.” And a part of being loving means that if they decide if they’re not ready, you don’t force the issue. You stay with them. You don’t abandon them. You still love them. And you’re ready if they come back. But you don’t force that issue.
And the first step is to remove the log in your eye. So how do you do that? First you must admit that there is a log in your eye. Step one in 12-steps is to admit you have a problem, and it’s the same here: you have to recognize that there is a log in your eye. And this is actually incredibly difficult. Did you know you have a blind spot? There is a spot in your vision where you cannot see; the place where the nerves go back to the brain from the eyeball. And yet you don’t know you have that blind spot because your brain fills it in to make it as if it wasn’t there. You can trick your brain into showing it to you if you really want to, but most times you don’t realize that you have a blind spot. And sometimes it can look like that: you can seem like we are seeing just fine, even though there is a log in our eye. So the first up is to recognize that there’s something to be dealt with.
Secondly you must accept help, or maybe even seek out help. You must look for someone who has already dealt with that log and who can help you. The church is meant to be a support group, use it as a support with what is going on in your life. Secondly, recognize that what sometimes seems like a log in our eye looks like a splinter to someone else. Maybe you can find someone that can help you deal with your splinter even if it feels like a log, like it’s impossible. And soon you’ll be able to be the one helping other people.
This week, I want you to work on getting the logs out of your eye by listening for the Holy Spirit to point them out, by working with people the Holy Spirit my point you toward, and by helping other people that the Holy Spirit may point to you. Be for them God‘s love and mercy. And through this, may God help us to be more perfect, and may God bless all of us. Amen.