Lent, Day 26 — Judging

Jesus’s Manifesto: The Sermon on the Mount
Judging

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.
(Matthew 7:1-5, NRSV)

  1. Jesus turns from how we should live for today to how we relate to each other.
  2. Again, Jesus indicates that forgiveness and judgment are reciprocal: what we deal out comes back to us. As I’ve said, I don’t think that God is keeping score in a ledger. Instead, we are opening or closing ourselves off to grace when we let other people be. Can you see how this relates to “letting tomorrow worry about itself?”
  3. We have such a need to be seen as superior to others that we try to recruit God into our scheme. This is also rooted in our fear of the future and in our own insecurity.
  4. Jesus notes a tendency we know to be true: we recognize and hate in others what is true about ourselves. Whenever we encounter someone whose activity grates on us, it is because there is something unresolved in us. Often the people who annoy us most are the kinds of people we are trying very hard (and often failing) not to be. That’s why our neighbor’s splinter bothers us more than our own log or beam.
  5. How many virulently sex-negative and anti-gay politicians and preachers have been caught in affairs? How often does our president condemn corruption? Judging others is often a form of projection. I see it everywhere because it is true of me.
  6. And yet even here we need to recognize: what we most dislike in these public figures is what we dislike in ourselves. Why does the president’s behavior get under my skin? Is it because I remember all the times I’ve been caught and embarrassed in my own lies? Or is it because he gets away with it?
  7. I’ve switched back to the New Revised Standard Version here for one reason: Jesus uses the word hypocrite, actor, again. It’s a call back to the last chapter about giving, praying, and fasting. But in this case, we’re not necessarily acting for the approval of others. Who are we acting for? We put on an act for ourselves. We need to see ourselves as righteous. But we cannot see the log in our own eye. Our self-image is important to us.
  8. The phrases “virtue signaling” and “moral licensing” are modern terms that describe a) how we try to appear virtuous to others and b) how we “let ourselves off the hook” with minor infractions if we think of ourselves as generally good people. Jesus is rounding out his description of hypocrisy here. Religious actors are ones who keep up a front not only to look good to others, but to convince themselves of their own righteousness.
  9. But Jesus isn’t done yet. He’s got something important to add to this mix. We’ll look at it tomorrow.

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