by Katy Lines
Okay, don’t judge me, but I’ve put off writing this trail guide until the last possible minute this week. So what comes to your mind when I share that? Do you think, “yeah, I figured she was the kind of person who procrastinates.” Or maybe what crossed your mind was, “totally get it! I feel you, friend; right there with you.” In other words… did you judge me for my actions?
And if you did, I’d like to judge you right back, I’ll reply snappily. Are you the kind of person who would judge me for my timeliness on this? I might as well start adding up all the other ways in which I fall short of what your expectations are for me. And vice versa, of course. Do you meet my expectations of you? Are you as…
… well dressed as I am?
… organized as I am?
… healthy as I am?
… educated as I am?
… popular as I am?
… spiritual as I am?
Well, you get it. We all have a tendency to measure ourselves against other people… and other people against ourselves. Our prideful self will measure everyone as less than me. And our insecure self is certain that everyone is greater than me. And even though I know that, I still tend to measure both myself and others.
And then I read Jesus’ words in today’s passage, and feel judged by Jesus for judging! 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 (7:1-2). Argh! I’m judged because I’m measuring others and myself! But that way of reading this text merely scares us into obedience and continues to perpetuate a law/lawbreaker mentality, and we will continually fall short in our inability to stop judging. Which leads to shame and guilt.
Or it might also do the opposite: “Jesus said not to judge, so I don’t care what you do. Live and let live. You do you. It’s not for me to say if what you do is good or bad.” That sentiment, too, reads Jesus’ words as literal and law-oriented, and we do know some things are harmful.
So let’s ask a different question, in line with Jesus’ hilltop message and his life and his desire for us: What sort of life does God’s reign shape? God gives good gifts to God’s beloved children, Jesus says (7.7-11). Bread when we need bread; fish when we need fish (and we all need fish, right? ). God’s reign shapes our lives with necessary good gifts given to beloved children, all of us.
God’s people, maturing in Christlikeness, grow in our discernment of God’s ways and purposes. That’s part of the good gifts God gives us, the gift of God’s maturing presence. As we discern God’s ways, we mature in our knowledge of ourselves, and in understanding other people. And we begin to recognize aspects within ourselves and others that are life-giving and aspects that are dis-eased. In Jesus’ words, identifying “twigs” and “timber” that blind us.
In other words, as we grow in discernment of God's ways, we learn to care about others, and ourselves. Care, in God’s reign, means discerning when I’ve got a log in my eye that I need to address— hard, lumbering work! And care, in God’s reign, means discerning when I see a speck in your eye— risky work, sometimes like tossing jewelry into a pigsty! It’s hard work for me to practice speaking kindly with others, when it’s not been my habit to do so. But goodness, it’s risky for you to tell me that my words are often not very kind. But for my own sake, and especially those around me, please take that risk! Wouldn’t our life together be a better place if those hard words were given… and received? (See also Romans 14:1-13) As Jesus said, because you care about others as God cares about you, do to others as you would want them to do to you. That’s the discernment of “judgment” that Jesus invites his followers to here.
Jesus’ words of judgment aren’t about measurements— competition or “better thans”— but about discernment, care of one another, and our own work of maturing. That’s the way of Jesus that we’re invited to join.
PREPARE FOR SUNDAY: Read Matthew 7:13-29