In a moment you will see a series of pictures. I did not select these pictures to make a point about the individuals or to make any political or social statement. I chose images that would elicit a reaction. As you see the pictures take note of your immediate reaction. Most of them are familiar, but I will list the names beside each picture.
George W. Bush
Gordon Gekko (as portrayed by actor Michael Douglas in the movie Wall Street)
Snooki (from MTV's show Jersey Shore)
(Benny Hinn - TV evangelist)
(A homeless man, whose name is unknown)
A man was eating breakfast and reading the paper one morning when his wife walked into the kitchen. She looked out the window and saw a neighbor hanging out laundry. It appeared to be very dingy and grey looking, so she began to criticize the neighbor’s ability to do laundry. Somebody needs to help our neighbors with their laundry. It looks terrible, she complained. A few days later the scene repeated itself. She looked out, saw the neighbor hanging laundry, and she criticized how dingy and grey it looked. A few days later, as she came into the kitchen, she looked out and saw the neighbor hanging laundry. This time, though, her reaction was much different. Someone must have finally taught our neighbors how to do laundry, she exclaimed. Actually, dear, said her husband, I decided to wash our window.
Jesus says, do not judge.
At this point in the Sermon On the Mount, I’m not sure why anyone would feel like judging another person. If you read through the Sermon On the Mount in one sitting, by the time you get to this part of the sermon it’s very easy to be overwhelmed with a sense of inadequacy about who we are spiritually and the idea that we would sit in judgment of anyone should be pretty well wrenched out of us.
I must note Jesus is not ruling out every type of judgment. There are times when it becomes necessary to approach another person to offer a point of correction, and we do so out of love. That is a healthy type of judgment to make, especially if someone is engaging in a behavior that is damaging or hurtful to them or another person. It also doesn’t mean we can’t speak the truth as it becomes necessary. Jesus could be very pointed at times as he spoke the truth. But even within those examples we must be very careful. There are people who, while “speaking the truth in love”, are really just using their so-called love as a cloak for speaking hurtfully to another person.
The kind of judging Jesus is speaking to in this passage is a specific type of judging – it is when a person decides they are of such a high moral standing they are qualified to pass judgment upon others. It is when one believes they are in possession of such a high level of righteousness they are morally superior to others and they congratulate themselves for being morally superior. This was the mistake of groups such as the Pharisees. There was certainly nothing at all wrong with their desire to lead morally upstanding lives and to follow the law as closely as possible. That is a laudable effort, but they fell into the trap of congratulating themselves for being so incredibly righteous while they viewed others as having a much more inferior type of righteousness.
Jesus says very clearly that no one is in the position to judge another in such a manner. He warns very clearly 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.
If I want to find fault with another person that leaves me open to fault-finding as well. If I want to point out the deficiencies of another person that leaves me open to others pointing out my deficiencies. If I want to point out the failures of another then others will no doubt point out my failures. The judgment we use on others, says, Jesus, becomes our judgment. The judgment we pass on others is passed on us.
Judgment is also unwise because we don’t know what is happening in the life of another person. You never know what is going on in the life of another person. You never know what combination of stresses, struggles, and pressures exist in the life of another. Schoolteachers certainly understand this. Teachers know that behavior is very strongly linked to a student’s environment, and if there are stresses and struggles in that environment they will be manifested in the student’s behavior at school. There may be times when we shake our head at the actions or behaviors of another without understanding what might be driving those actions and behavior. I am sometimes privy to some of those stresses and pressures in people’s lives and I can say without hesitation that we don’t always know what is happening in the lives of others.
There is also an element of blindness that exists in judging. Sometimes we can see the faults of others very clearly but are blind to the same faults within ourselves. Jesus says it this way – 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.
Some years ago I decided to add a specific point to a sermon in hopes that an individual would be present. I thought it was something they really needed to hear, so I put it in a sermon. It was the first and the last time I did such a thing. The person was in worship the Sunday morning that I preached the sermon, and on their way out of worship stopped and said to me, you know Dave, I’m really glad you made that point this morning (the one I wanted them to hear. It worked, I thought). I’m glad you made that point because so-and-so was here and they really needed to hear it. People see in others what they cannot see in themselves.
The ancient Greeks, when they faced a very difficult trial, would sometimes hold the trial in the dark, so the judge and jury would not be swayed by anything but the facts in a case.
(Barclay, p. 264).
I’m not sure we can control our instinct toward judgment. I’m not sure it is possible for us to put ourselves in the dark to the point that we are not influenced by things such as how a person looks or acts. We can, though, control how we deal with others, and we can control how we treat others, and we can control what we say about others, and that is a significant difference.
I believe people are so anxious to find a spiritual home where no mantle of judgment will be placed upon them. I believe there are many people who would love to be a part of church, but they have experienced the heavy hand of judgment in such a hurtful way that they just can bring themselves to step into a church.
We can be living expressions of the grace of God. We can show people there are churches that will not judge them. We can show people God is pursuing them with love and grace and not judgment.
May we pray.