Who’s judging who?
“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbour, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye."
I was reading the sermon on the mount this morning, widely considered the central point of Jesus’ teaching. It is only three chapters but holds so much clear wisdom, though extremely revolutionary. In Matthew 5 particularly, Jesus takes well known parts of Law and portrays them in a new light (eg.“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”)
The passage about judgement that we started with is no different. I spend lots of my time with young people who are not Christians and there tend to be two major hang ups about Christianity/Christians. The first is that Christians are judgemental. The second is that God is judgemental.
Now, we all know the first part to be true to some extent- I’m sure we have all been part of that problem. Indeed, that seems to be the problem Jesus is addressing here. The second issue, however, is seemingly well founded in Old Testament scripture.
Judgement is one of key themes that comes across from reading the Hebrew Bible – There is a whole book about Judges! In Hebrew, the word shaphat means both to judge and to rule or govern. Judge was akin to a royal appointment. What with all the goings on in the Old Testament narrative, there is no wonder that there was a need for some authoritative judgement. Naturally, the people took it upon themselves to pass judgement over time.
We see this continued in the behaviour of Pharisees in the New Testament. They were the ‘religious’ people of their time, and subsequently thought themselves best placed to enact God’s judgement on their community. So when Jesus teaches us through this picture of specks and logs, it is a pivotal insight into the heart of God for judgement.
What spoke to me today, and it felt like a fresh revelation from this well known passage, was the last verse. The end result of introspection and self-reflection is that we are better placed to help our neighbours. Of course, this marries perfectly with much of Jesus other teaching – to love our neighbours as ourselves and to love our enemies. Whoever we are passing judgement on, seeing the speck in their eye, the end position is that of seeking to help them by removing it.
Our judgement, this passage suggests, is tarnished by the log in our own eye, whatever that may be. This imagery offers a beautiful reflection of a psychological view that each of us carry prejudices. More often than not, these are unconscious- out of our active thinking, but actively shaping our thoughts, words and deeds. These unconscious biases, I believe, represent the log in our own eye.
Jesus leads with the main conclusion; do not judge, so you may not be judged. Knowing, however, that this is easier said than done for us mere mortals, he then lays out a helpful strategy – before you speak on others, consider yourself.
There’s a saying that summarises this well – whenever you point a finger, there are three pointing back at you!
But perhaps Jesus puts it best when he said:
Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.