By Amber Noel
A Reading from the Gospel of Matthew 7:1-12
1 “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2 For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” while the log is in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
6 “Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
7 “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. 9 Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
12 “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.”
“Don’t judge others” is a well-accepted maxim, and hard to obey. “Don’t judge what another chooses” (the implication à la mode) is also true to a great extent, and to a very great extent, difficult to obey, and perhaps in no age more than our own, with so many choices and attendant anxieties it would make our foreparents’ jaws drop. Life is hard enough. No one wants to add the fear of being frowned upon, much less to be despised or condemned, to choosing what they do with their lives.
And yet, we must make judgments. We are made “little lower than the angels,” and our choices have consequence. Know where to throw your pearls, for instance, Jesus says. If we’re to become spiritual adults, we must learn the art of discernment, of knowing, as best we can, right from wrong, in ourselves and in others, and act accordingly, without condemning people, and without harshness, but still, to do and commend the right.
We’ve all heard “Don’t judge me!” as a desperate plea, or even a strident demand. Perhaps societies that want unimited choice with less and less judgment are more anxious and fragile than others. We know what Christians are called to do with our own moral fragility: apply God’s mercy, have patience, but, with his help, grow up. The psalmist gives us a great example: he begs for righteous judgments!
But what about the fragility of others? “Don’t judge me” often means, on some level, “Love me.” The mind may rightly roll its eyes at an immature claim or a bad idea, but the godly heart is responsive to a cry for love. We also remember that Jesus, the Judge himself, follows his stern “Do not judge” with a proviso: only if you can see your own faults and address them can you help your neighbor with theirs. “Don’t judge” and “Judge wisely.” Both commands disciple our human reality; if we’re going to flourish, we’re accountable to both.
Amber Noel, M.Div., is Associate Editor at the Living Church and Associate Director of The Living Church Institute. Off the clock, she is the author of short fiction, book and culture reviews, and work for the stage.
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