The Rector’s sermon for March 31, 2019 - 4 Lent  




A Lenten Series:  THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT (Matthew 5:1—7:27)

Judge Not (Matthew 7:1-5) –  (5 of 10)


I am continually amazed how God orchestrates what the world calls coincidence, but we Christians know as  God-incidents.   Once again he put together three disconnected pieces of information to mean almost the same thing.  When that happens, not only is the hand of God visible, but I believe the subject matter must be that important to create such an event. 


This week in the Alpha group, part of our conversation centered around how we judge people who have hurt us.  Today in the Gospel we hear about the Prodigal Son and a very important part of that story is the reaction of the devoted son who judges his brother for deserting the family.  And the subject of today’s Sermon on the Mount series, written with no knowledge of today’s Gospel, is:  Judge Not.  Amazing how God puts things together, isn’t it!  The passage for today is Matthew 7:1-5:


 [Jesus says] “…Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.  For you will be treated as you treat others.  The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.  And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own?  How can you think of saying to your friend, ‘Let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye?  Hypocrite!  First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” 


Steven Covey, author of Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, once told of riding on a New York subway one Sunday morning.  People were sitting quietly until a man and his children entered the subway.  The man sat next to Covey, while the children ran wild throughout the car, yelling and throwing things.  And what was the dad doing?  Just sitting there next to Covey, doing nothing.  He seemed like he was in a trance.  By the expressions on other passengers’ faces, judgments about this dad were being made all around…this guy is a terrible parent… doesn’t he see how his children are annoying everyone else…what is his problem?


Finally, Covey broke the man’s trance with an appeal that he get control of his children.  The dad responded with these unexpected words, “Oh, you’re right.  I guess I should do something about it.  We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.”  Covey talks about how, in an instant, his attitude toward the dad was changed.  He moved from critical judging to compassion as he saw things as they really were.


When Jesus says, “Judge not, that you be not judged,” He’s not suggesting that we set aside our ability to look at things critically.  It’s always important to discern the difference between what is good and what isn’t.  He’s not suggesting that we should never try to offer helpful correction when needed.  God has blessed us with the ability to be critical if it helps us navigate through life.  Christians are and need to be discerning.  We “test the spirits” (1 John 4:1) as we follow Jesus.  We confront evil when we see it.  We speak up for the good.


But Jesus’ command not to judge others is rather a warning against a prideful critical spirit which is quick to make conclusions about the character or behavior of others.  It’s like Covey on the bus, writing the story in his head about the dad’s neglectful parenting.  It’s a person coming to conclusions about the character of a person because of their attire, the tattoos and piercings all over their bodies, the way they behave in public, and I could go on and on.  There are many ways we judge people with little knowledge of the real story.  We all do it, don’t we!  Jesus’ use of the word ‘hypocrite’ here is absolutely perfect!  Jesus says, “don’t judge someone else’s shortcomings and sin when you can’t even see your own!  Only a hypocrite, with a two-by-four in his own eye, will try to take a speck out of someone else’s eye!”  That picture shows us how ludicrous it is for us to judge others without having judged ourselves first.  If we are to point out a friend’s sins, we must do so with a clear vision of our own sins.  We must approach a situation humbly, with moral criticism…as a fellow sinner…not as a righteous judge.  God is the only true righteous judge.  God alone judges from a position of perfection.


Clearly, in this passage, the target is the Pharisees who delighted in finger-pointing.  Jesus unveils their hypocrisy as they play ‘god’ and mercilessly judge the behavior of others.  Over time these guardians of community morality had assumed the position of an all-righteous, all-perfect god.  And Jesus shows that they are incapable of taking on such a position by their own hypocrisy.  He warns that they will be the victims of the same kind of merciless judgment from God.


You may remember that it was Jesus who once stepped into a scene of Pharisees ready to stone a woman caught in adultery.  They tested Jesus, asking if the law of Moses was right in saying that such a woman should be stoned.  Jesus, taking his finger and writing their sins on the ground said, “Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone at her” (John 8:7).  They walked away…one by one.


Jesus spent much of his ministry under the watchful, plank-in-the-eye Pharisees.  They called Jesus a glutton, a drunkard, and a friend of sinners (Luke 7:34) among other things.  They said he was on the same level as the devil:  “It’s only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons” (Matthew 12:24), they said.  They were so wrong and in the end, they would charge him with blasphemy.


At his trial before the Sanhedrin, he was asked if he was the Messiah.  He answered, “I am, and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).  The high priest tore his robes and said, “What further witnesses do we need?  You’ve heard the blasphemy.  What is your decision?” (Mark 14:63-34).  And they condemned him to death…Jesus…the only person among them who was able to judge rightly…is condemned to death!  The Pharisees had written their own story of Jesus.  Their prejudice and injustice were driven by self-righteousness, jealousy and fear.  They couldn’t see clearly because of the planks in their eyes.


Even after all this, Jesus knew that his followers would not be immune from self-righteous judgment.  Sadly, even in church bodies today, pastors have been known to judge without having all the information.  I’ve heard awful stories of clergy turning their backs on people who are different, chastising parishioners who on the outside don’t seem to measure up, those who seem to buck the rules.  Someone once said that “the church shoots its own wounded.”  Don’t be shocked; think about it…we judge certain sins harshly and completely ignore others.  We may look across a gathering of God’s people and begin writing our own stories of where this person falls short and how that person has failed.  All along, as we judge others, we fail to see the planks in our own eyes.


The great irony of the cross comes as the perfect Judge, the one “who will come again to judge the living and the dead,” is falsely accused, convicted and executed.  The Judge of all is judged unjustly.  In that judgment gone wrong, God amazingly works a unique kind of justice.  God counts the execution of Jesus as ours!  God judges Jesus as if Jesus were you and I!  God points the accusing finger at Jesus who represents us!.  But God puts grace in play and rewrites the story!  This is much more than a story of an innocent victim of injustice.  This is God sending Jesus to suffer and die as a consequence of our sins.  And among those sins are every hasty judgment we’ve ever made of another’s character, every hurtful word of criticism, every attitude warped by prejudice or fear.


The next time we are ready to write the story of another’s failure or another’s sin, perhaps we should remember what happened at the cross.  If we do that, we will see the plank in our own eye.  We will see our sin.  And we will see…clearly… the planks of the cross and the One nailed to it.   Then, as it always is with God, as He has promised, judgment will be tempered with grace, and like the loving arms of the Father who welcomed home his prodigal son, we will take part in the ultimate feast prepared for those who believe.

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