Jesus’ famous teaching on judging others, which is really another teaching on anger and condemnation. Again,I need to point out that Jesus great sermon really is just that – a sermon. Or really, a talk and teaching. It’s not disjointed teachings of Jesus randomly collected in one place by the gospel writer, it is an organized teaching with points that build, one upon the other. These points build one upon the other, and we must begin at the point in which Jesus begins and follow along point by point. We begin where Jesus begins, the nature of “blessedness” or well being in the beatitudes, and follow along. We must understand that yes, we too can be blessed, no matter how far down we may have fallen, no matter how we are treated or viewed by others, no matter if we are part of some group that most might think was definitively not blessed. Once we can understand this point, then can follow along point by point and see the unity of the discourse, and see point building upon point. We set aside anger and contempt, we deal with our lust, we learn not to manipulate with our words and fine print, we begin to desire forgiveness not vengeance. We learn (and live as if we have learned) not to depend upon our reputation and wealth, we are not dependent upon the ever changing opinions of others for our self worth.
It’s only after we have come to deal with and accept all these teachings that we can make any sense of the rest of the sermon on the mount. When we don’t read or understand these teachings with the backdrop of what Jesus is building here, we simply pluck them out when we want to use or weaponize them, we seek to use them without any context, and they just make no sense. We can read and analyze each section individually, we can use these sections and “sayings” by themselves, but without the context and knowledge of what Jesus has been building throughout his discourse, they just bring confusion and worse.
So, think about this and how we use it today. Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. We’ve all heard this, we’ve probably used it ourselves. But do you realize how often we actually live this out in our own lives on an almost daily basis? And yes, we can pluck this out and use it in almost every confrontation we have in our lives, but it really only makes sense once we’ve dealt with all the issues Jesus has dealt with earlier in his talk. We can only understand what Jesus is saying here, and only have any hope of living it out successfully, if we’ve gone through the preceding material and have dealt specifically with our anger and especially our tendency to look others with contempt.
We, as human beings, have a deeply rooted practice of condemning and blaming. This us what Jesus is getting at when he tells us to judge not. If we really want to be of use in this world, if we really want to “help” those closest to us and learn to live together with our friends, family, and all those neighbors in the kingdom of the heavens, then we must overcome this basic tendency to blame and condemn. Jesus says we can and should become the kinds of people that do not condemn or blame others every time something goes wrong (or, even if nothing has gone wrong!). If we can, we will have the power of that kingdom of God much more freely available to bless and guide those around us.
Of course, we don’t actually believe we can live this way. How can we live in this life, with these relationships, with these people, without letting know that we disapprove of what they are doing and think that they are wrong?? Giving (and receiving) condemnation on a daily basis is just how we live. It’s just a part of our life, and we can basically not imagine not using and having condemnation at our disposal. After all, how else are we going go be able to tell everyone how wrong they are? (How will you be able to tell me how wrong I am??!!).
It’s just like when we first hear about laying down our anger, contempt, and lust – we don’t believe we can (or even want to) live like that. And – if we have decided not to submit to those teachings, then yes, this one is impossible. What will we do to “correct” someone, to “straighten them out”, to get them back on the right path if we don’t keep judgment, shame and condemnation at our disposal? What better way than a healthy dose of shame and condemnation to bring them back in line? We at least need to let it be known that we are right, don’t we?
But what is condemnation, really? When we condemn someone, we are letting them know that in some deep and intractable way, they are just bad, and need (deserve) to be rejected. They are not acceptable as they are. They are condemned to exclusion, unacceptable, unwanted.
Don’t think that this only applies when we are in church or our church communities. Jesus’ warning against judgment and condemnation are most important in our closest relationships, such as our spouses, children, and close relatives and friends. As the old saying goes – “familiarity breeds contempt.” It is in these familial relationships that Jesus teaching here could go the farthest to change forever. If you have kids, especially teenagers, you should be able to recognize this instantly. If you correct your children on certain behaviors you see, or try to teach them to do (or maybe more importantly, not to do) certain things, you are likely to get a strong, immediate response – “You drank when you were my age!! I heard you liked to go out!! You smoke, why can’t I??” Ever heard some of these? Ever said them? For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. It all comes right back around to us. We speak to our own children and our own families in ways we would never dream of speaking to someone else’s kids or people outside our own family. We insist on maintaining a level of respect (which, sadly, is to say any respect at all) for people we don’t live with everyday that we don’t even attempt to maintain in our own families. We heap endless judgment, shame and condemnation upon those we profess to love the most, which we would never dream of putting upon even our most hated enemy outside of our own family. Then we wonder why our marriages end up shattered and our children would rather be with any family but their own. Why are our children always out? Why do they prefer the company of every family but their own? In the words of C.S. Lewis – “Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?”
“”Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log 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 brother’s eye. “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
Matthew 7:1-6 ESV