Matthew 7:1-14, 24-29
(sermon note: 02-05 sermon note)
[Jesus said,] ‘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. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 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? 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.
‘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.
‘Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 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!
‘In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
‘Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall!’
Now when Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about God and his faithful servant, St. Peter. One day they decided to take a walk and do their rounds around a college campus. While looking around the dorms, they saw a group of students earnestly studying for their final exams the next day. God looked at St. Peter and told him to fail each one of them. St. Peter was a little bewildered, but he dared not doubt the judgment of God. Moments later, they passed by a dorm full of drunk students, partying before their final the next day. God took a look at them and said, “Make sure these students all get an A+ tomorrow.” St. Peter couldn’t sit quietly anymore and finally asked why. “Why?!” he cried out. With a smile on his face, God kindly responded to St. Peter, “Because these students clearly have faith in me.”
Clearly God’s expectations are unlike any teacher I ever heard of! Just have enough faith and God will invariably help you succeed! And when we fail…is it because we don’t have enough faith? Well, we can see why it’s logic best left in a joke. Not that God doesn’t want to help us succeed but his help isn’t necessarily contingent on our faith. God’s help comes to us regardless of our faith. Thus is the grace of God. Our God helps us succeed regardless of what we do or don’t do. Our God is a good and gracious God! That said, I wouldn’t rely on God’s grace to get me through every foolish decision I make. Partying the night before exams is pretty foolish. Don’t expect God’s grace to get you through the exams every time! But heaven knows I was blessed with God’s grace to help get me through an exam or two in my day.
Yes, our God is a good and gracious God. He’s also a judging God as that joke clearly illustrated. We might ask ourselves, “How can He be both a gracious God AND a judging God? What about when it comes time to make judgments of condemnation? Where’s the grace in condemnation?” Where is grace in condemnation? First, we must consider that condemnation invariably leads to death and perhaps some things, some people, deserve to die. Perhaps there is justice and righteousness in death. God’s grace is fully revealed when someone or something is allowed to die. Not all things should live. Some things should simply die for the sake of life to continue elsewhere. So God’s condemnation can be considered an act of grace…God CAN be both gracious and judging!
Phew…let’s get back on track! Well, believe it or not, we’re not off the tracks yet. Our God is a judging God and it’s important to remember this as we hear Jesus’ words in today’s reading. In no uncertain terms, Jesus advises us not to judge others lest we be judged ourselves. I appreciate how he framed his lesson in the words of advice. Earlier this week, I posed the question at our Bible study, “As Christians, are we forbidden to judge others?” to which I referred back to Jesus’ words. Jesus doesn’t forbid us to judge others, he simply advises against it. Jesus never forbids anything because that would inhibit our freedoms. So I appreciate how Jesus offers his lesson…”don’t judge others unless you want to be judged.” If you’re okay with the possibility of being judged yourself, then by all means, judge away! Don’t think you have anything worthy of judgment, think again! We ALL have something worthy of judgment! If you can handle being judged, then go ahead and judge. My guess is that few of us can handle being judged. Few of us like being told we’re wrong in how we think or act. That’s why we’re so careful in how we think and act! To avoid being judged by others! Jesus, ever a wise and gentle teacher, helpfully advises against judging others.
It’s not that far of a leap in thought to arrive at what’s familiarly known as the “Golden Rule.” Jesus goes on to teach us, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you.” In most interactions, people tend to mirror how we behave towards them. If we treat others poorly, then they will treat us poorly. If we treat others with respect, then they will treat others with respect. How we are treated by others is directly affected by how we treat them. Of course, there are those people that treat us poorly no matter how we treat them, respectfully or not. But those types of people are rare. Generally speaking, we are treated according to how we treat others. Judge others and we will be judged.
Now then, beneath the Golden Rule is that ever important truth to remember–our God is a judging God. He’s not only a judging God but THE JUDGE. Our God is the only judge that matters in this world and the next. And thank goodness for this! Our God is the only truly righteous judge. Our God is the only truly good and gracious judge. His judgments lead to life! We can take comfort in God being “The Judge.” We never have to worry if his judgments are fair or right…they always are! The book of James reminds us of this, “There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and destroy. So who, then, are you to judge your neighbor?” (4:12) Friends, we are poor judges of ourselves and our neighbors. Only God can judge with absolute fairness and righteousness. And there’s the added bonus that we don’t receive judgment from others if we leave it up to God to do all the judging! Win-win situation for all!
If we leave the judgment to God, then we can instead focus on loving and supporting each other. Paul advises in his letter to the Ephesians, “let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” (4:29) We, too, can focus on being gracious to each other just as God is gracious to us. As Paul also advises in his letter to the Galatians, “my friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” (6:1) We are called to build up and restore, not tear down and destroy as judgment often leads to.
All through Jesus’ so-called “sermon on the mount,” Jesus gave us powerful words of wisdom to guide us in our daily living. His Golden Rule reminds us to leave judgment to God and focus on loving and supporting each other. All of us are better off for it! Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.