Listen to the audio of today’s Reflection:

https://soundcloud.com/hapearce/reflection-for-may-20-2022

Matthew 7:1-12

Judging Others

     1“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.

     3 “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.

      6 “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask, Seek, Knock

     7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

     9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

Advance warning: This Reflection will seem kind of ‘choppy,’ because our reading is made up of several short teachings from Jesus that don’t seem that connected to each other. You might remember that as we’ve been working our way through the part of Matthew called the Sermon on the Mount, we’ve said that a lot of Bible scholars think it’s not really a sermon. Instead, they think it’s a collection of Jesus’ most important teachings. So it’s probably no surprise that there would be some parts of this section of Matthew where the connections seem a little loose.

In the first part of the reading, Jesus says we are not to judge others, and says we’ll get the same measure of judgment from God that we extend to others. Then Jesus uses a metaphor to illustrate how ridiculous is us for us to be concerned with the sins of others. It’s the famous image of trying to remove a speck from the eye of another person while they’ve got a plank in their own eye. The scholars say this kind of metaphor was common in the ancient Semitic world – the use of wildly exaggerated images to make a point.

The point Jesus seems to be making here is that each of us has sins in our own life that should be of greater concern to us than the sins of other people. I suppose you could say that this exaggerated metaphor seems to make the point that our own sins can make us so spiritually blind that it’s impossible for us to help others in any meaningful way. But on the other hand, when we’re more concerned with our own sins than with the sins of others, our example can inspire others to examine their own lives, too.

There’s an irony here, I guess: The greatest effect we can have in setting others free from their sins comes when stop worrying about their sins and focus on getting rid of our own. When we point out the sins of others, they’re likely to respond with defensive anger. But when people see us wrestling to break the grip of our own sins, and praying for the Spirit’s help in doing that, then those people may be inspired to do likewise.

I guess when you think about it, being judgmental is not only a sin in Jesus’ eyes, but also it doesn’t work as a way to make others less sinful.

In another part of this passage, Jesus talks about ‘throwing pearls before pigs.’ It seems a little odd to have this teaching come right after his commandment not to judge. Bible scholars have struggled to try to figure out what Jesus had in mind here, and most of their explanations seem like guesses. But the two Matthew scholars that seem most insightful – W. D. Davies and Dale Allison – say in their commentary that what Jesus has in mind here is that the followers of Jesus actually do need to be judgmental sometimes.

They say the “sacred” things and the “pearls” Jesus is talking about here refer to forgiveness and tolerance. There are some people who are simply so evil that turning a blind eye to their sins is like throwing pearls before swine. Hitler comes to mind. Guys who beat their wives and children. Serial murders. Sexual predators. Dictators. Extending forgiveness to them would seem to fall into the category of throwing pearls before swine, and we wouldn’t be surprised if they responded to our forgiveness by ‘turning and tearing us to pieces.’

But most of the people we come in contact with aren’t serial killers or dictators. They’re people like us, who try to make their way in life and sometimes – like us – find themselves entangled in their own sins. So for them, Jesus commands mercy, forgiveness and refraining from judgment. The same things we hope our God will extend to us.

The second half of this reading includes two teachings about prayer.

The first encourages us to be persistent in prayer. The Greek form used here means something like ‘keep on’ – like, ‘keep on asking, keep on seeking, keep on knocking.’ At first glance, it might seem like Jesus is promising that we’ll get anything we pray for. But that’s probably not what Jesus had in mind. As we’ve said before, Jesus himself prayed for something that was not granted – the removal of the “cup” of crucifixion.

Instead, it seems that Jesus is encouraging his disciples to be persistent in praying for God’s care and guidance for us and for the church as a body. Because he then goes on to liken God to a loving father who provides for the needs of his children. Jesus says that even human parents typically provide for the needs of their children. And if we do that in spite of our sinful nature, we can count on our holy God to provide even better for our needs.

Jesus closes this passage with a verse repeating what we know as ‘the Golden Rule.’ And he goes on to say that this rule “sums up the Law and the Prophets,” which was a way of referring to all of scripture. So his point seems to be that the Golden Rule is a short summary of how God has been calling his people to live together from the beginning.

So even though this passage doesn’t hang together with a single theme, there are several important teachings here, each of which provides an important glimpse of what it means to live as a faithful follower of Jesus.

Let’s pray. Lord, you know how quick we are to condemn the sins of others and how slow we are to confront our own. By your Holy Spirit, turn that all around, and make us examples of repentance, and of extending to others the grace we rejoice to receive ourselves. Make us more faithful in prayer, and in treating others as we hope to be treated. Amen.

Have a great weekend, and worship God joyfully on Sunday!

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 96 and 148; Leviticus 23:1-22; and II Thessalonians 2:1-17. Our readings come from the NIV Bible as posted on Biblica.org, the website of the International Bible Society.)