It happens every time: When a pastor or other Christian begins talking about one of Jesus’ toughest instructions, they immediately begin qualifying it.
‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement 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 neighbour’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 neighbour’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
I’ve never heard a sermon that just stopped there. “Don’t judge.” You know the follow-up, right? “Well, clearly Jesus doesn’t mean we can ignore sin. If we let people persist in their sin, it wouldn’t be loving.” His words are so unsettling we feel we have to add exceptions and qualifications. “What about murder? What about child abuse?” As if we don’t know what Jesus is talking about.
I find it interesting that most translations separate this text from the one that immediately follows: “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.” I think these are two ways of looking at the same thing.
Lots of Christians are jabbing at people’s faces with tweezers while trying to look around planks in their own eyes because they honestly believe they are going to be helpful by doing so. By pointing out the sin of others, aren’t we helping them to overcome it? If you have a booger on your nose, shouldn’t I point it out to you rather than letting you walk around with it hanging on your face? Not necessarily. If someone tells you they put the booger there and they are fine with it, and you continue to point it out, then you’re just being a jerk.
That’s when the Christian’s attitude often shifts to one of judging the person AND the sin. “Well, if they don’t want my help,” goes the thinking, “then they can just go to hell.” Jesus seems to anticipate this shift. “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.” I think this is Jesus’s somewhat ironic way of telling his followers to stop wasting time. Robert Heinlein says something similar: “Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and just annoys the pig.” Christians who think they are going to improve the world by trying to wrestle secular culture to the ground with the Bible, decrying various sexual sins and the self-destructiveness of the world, are simply inviting trouble. The “love the sinner, hate the sin” mentality invites the hatred of the world.
(By the way, it wasn’t until I watched Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels and Deadwood that I really understood the terror of being mauled by pigs. Dang, that’s scary).
I find it fascinating that most of us just can’t let it stop with Jesus words. “But we have to make judgments! We have to talk about sin!” Really? Did someone ask you to? Did someone ask for your help in removing an eye-splinter? Did someone invite you to share your holy bread or your precious pearls? Because if not, you are not dealing with someone else’s spiritual need. In fact, you’re not dealing with anyone’s need but your own: your own need to be right, to be holy, to be affirmed.
I think that’s why the next bit Jesus talks about is asking for what we need. “Ask, seek, knock,” Jesus says, “and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives, and everyone who searches finds, and to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” I think the everyone is pretty clear. Are you genuinely concerned for your neighbor? Don’t worry. If they ask, they will receive. If they ask for your precious pearls, you’ll have them to share.