Reading for Tuesday, June 19, 2012: Matthew 7
“Judge not, that you not be judged.” This is probably the most mis-quoted passage in the New Testament. It’s used as a polemic against any kind of judgmental language that one finds to be particularly offensive. “Don’t judge me,” could be the mantra of our age. To be branded judgmental is the cardinal sin in our culture. Yet, in the same breath, Jesus warns against giving that which is holy to “dogs” and not casting pearls out for the “swine” and “pigs”. Sounds pretty judgmental, eh?
What’s lost on us is the Biblical principle of discernment. It’s true, the Bible condemns judgmental attitudes that aren’t mitigated by a redemptive impulse. But the Bible also calls us to speak the truth, even when it hurts, always in love. The call here is not for zero ethical discernment. The New Testament is full of examples of individuals who unabashedly confront sin. The soft line of not judging others by simply leaving them in their sin is an easy out and it betrays authentic love. When the holy is profaned, followers of Jesus exercise discernment.
But Jesus does call us to exercise the same level of discernment and examination with regard to our own spiritual lives. “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?” If you’re going to take up the task of being the community watchdog, you’d better begin at home.
Jesus encourages the crowd to “ask, seek, knock” in prayer. These aren’t three different actions. All three are Jewish expressions for prayer. Jesus sees prayer as an integral component of the Kingdom life, as we discussed at length in our study of Luke. He grounds His teaching in the character of God: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (v11). Confidence in prayer isn’t based on our verbiage or flowery language, as if God is somehow compelled by eloquence. Instead, our confidence comes from God’s character as the Loving Father, the One who knows what we need even before we ask.
As He closes His sermon, Jesus gives the crowd a flurry of choices: they must choose between two gates (v13-14), two types of prophets (v15ff), two kinds of disciples (v21ff), and two kinds of foundations (v24ff). As with all good sermons, the Sermon on the Mount concludes with a summons to action, a crisis of decision for the audience. As Jesus finished, the crowds are amazed “for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes,” (v29). This is no ordinary sermon and this is certainly no ordinary preacher.