Humble Beginnings #5: Sermon on the Mount: Do Not Judge, Love Others
Psalm 37:1-6, 23-24
We are continuing to follow Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. We have been focusing on Jesus’ humble beginnings. This is our third week in the Sermon on the Mount. In Jesus’ sermon on the mount, Jesus teaches us the root of following Him. The root of following Jesus is humility. The first week in the Sermon on the Mount, we learned that when we suffer or make sacrifices we are blessed because God is with us. Last week we learned to let go of trying to control, and to not worry because God knows what we need. When we shift our focus to God, God will provide for us.
Today Jesus has a lot to say to us in chapter 7. We won’t have time to touch on all of it. The main take-away is that through all of these teachings, Jesus is encouraging us to make God to focus of our lives. Jesus is giving us practical tools to constantly turn away from sin, or from anything else that is not God, and instead to turn towards God. This echoes back to what John the Baptist was saying, “Repent!” which means, turn away from sin and turn towards God. It also echoes back to what Jesus did during his temptation in the wilderness: he turned away from the devil’s temptations and turned towards His heavenly Father. It echoes back to what we learned about being blessed: we turn towards God in the midst of suffering or sacrifice and we will be blessed and strengthened by God’s presence with us. And it echoes back to what we learned about not worrying: turn towards God, trust God, God knows what you need and will provide for you.
Now we are in the conclusion of Jesus’ first teaching. He continues to teach us to make God the center of our lives, to turn from sin and towards God. He also continues to teach us that humility is essential to following Jesus. Let’s start at chapter 7:1. Jesus said, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” Now what does this mean exactly? It does not mean that we should not discern the difference between good and bad, or right or wrong. A lot of what Jesus is talking about in this Sermon on the Mount is discerning the difference between good and bad, and right and wrong. We need to be able to do that, to discern, to judge the difference between right and wrong. So what is Jesus getting at exactly when he tells us here not to judge?
What this is saying is that when we discern that something is wrong or bad that we should not put ourselves in the judgement seat of Christ and condemn other people. It is always a temptation for us to condemn what other people are doing. Most of the time, we notice the bad things that others do because we do them ourselves. We notice another person doing it because we are very familiar with that kind of behaviour. Jesus is saying, “When you discern that something is bad or wrong, don’t condemn others, but repent yourself; you are noticing this because you do it, too.”
The Apostle Paul also talks about this in the letter to the Romans, in chapter 2. In Romans 2:1 he wrote, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgement on another you condemn yourself, because you the judge are doing the very same things.” Then he goes on to say in verse 4, “Do you not realize that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” This is exactly what Jesus is getting at in Matthew chapter 7:3-5. Jesus asked them, “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 neighbour, ‘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.” In other words, we should be discerning the difference between right and wrong, good and bad. But that discernment should lead us to our own repentance, to take the log out of our own eye. That discernment should lead us to turn away from the wrong, turn away from the bad, and turn towards God. The discernment should not lead us to condemn others.
This teaching of Jesus makes me thing of something I saw on Facebook awhile ago. A woman wrote a blog post about being “the new person” somewhere. We have all experienced being the new person and not knowing anyone. In her case, her daughter was starting a new extra-curricular activity. The first time she took her daughter to this activity, she walked up to two other mothers and asked them a question. They responded with annoyed faces and turned their backs on her. She felt so excluded and so hurt by the experience. She rightly discerned that this was wrong and that this behaviour was bad. In that moment she had a choice. She could become bitter and condemn the other two mothers, or she could use that experience to repent of that behaviour herself and turn this situation into goodness and love (her words). She chose the latter. She decided to remember that experience and use it motivate her never behave that way herself. She decided to always be an includer and to always make others feel welcome. In this way, experiencing that bad behaviour motivated her to repent from it herself. She turned away from the temptation to feel bitter and to condemn those other mothers. It took humility to do that. In that way she took the log out of her own eye instead of focusing on the speck in theirs. In this way, Jesus’ instruction to us not to judge others is actually instruction on how to add love to situations where love does not exist.
There is a logic to all of these proverbs that Jesus teaches us in Matthew 7. In verse 12 Jesus teaches the Golden Rule: “In everything you do, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” In other words, approach everything with humility, with your eyes on God, with Jesus as your focus. Jesus receives us with love, mercy, and grace. This is how we hope to be received by everyone, whether we behave well or not. And so when we encounter bad or wrong behaviour, we should respond by treating others as we would wish to be treated. That doesn’t mean that we can change them. Jesus doesn’t say, “In everything you do, do to others as you would have them do to you; for in this way you can change them.” No, he says, “In everything you do, do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” In other words, that’s what the Bible is all about.
In the story from Facebook, the woman was not able to change how she was treated by those other Moms, but she was able to change how she acted towards others so that she brought goodness and love into the lives of people who felt lonely and excluded. Desmond Tutu said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” Kind of like snowflakes.
As Christ followers, we are called to lives of humility, turned towards God, seeking to bring love and goodness into every situation, because that is what we would hope others would do for us.
It’s Black History Month and I have been trying to learn about Canadians of African descent. One of the things I have learned is that Nova Scotia used to have laws like the Jim Crow laws that separated Blacks and whites in public spaces. For example, the woman on the $10 bill is Viola Desmond and she was arrested for sitting in the “whites only” section of the Roseland Theatre in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia.
Another African Canadian, also from Nova Scotia, who experienced those same discriminatory laws, was Donald H. Oliver. In 1965, he became a lawyer and once he had that role he wanted to do something about the discrimination he and his fellow African Canadians had experienced. He had a choice. He could have tried to make laws to discriminate against whites, to show us what it was like. But he didn’t. Instead he chose to make laws for everyone that he would want for himself. “He introduced laws to stop racial discrimination...and promoted employment equality so that everyone [would be] treated fairly at their jobs no matter their race, gender, or religion.” (From the Big Dreamers: The Canadian Black History Activity Book for Kids Vol. 1, by Akilah Newton & Tami Gabay (Bright Confetti Media: 2018), pg. 7.) He did not condemn whites, but repented from discrimination himself, and forged a new way ahead for Nova Scotia to eliminate discrimination from their legal system. He grew up in a strong Christian household and approached his pursuit of justice with repentance, turning away from sin and turning towards God. God is the anchor that enables us to treat others as we wish to be treated and to repent ourselves in the face of evil.
It’s as Henry Nouwen said, “The love of God is an unconditional love, and only that love can empower us to live together without violence. When we know that God loves us deeply and will always go on loving us, whoever we are and whatever we do, it becomes possible to expect no more of our fellow men and women than they are able to give, to forgive them generously when they have offended us, and always to respond to their hostility with love. By doing so we make visible a new way of being human and a new way of responding to our world problems.”
Do not judge or condemn others. Discern the evil, but repent from it yourself instead of condemning the people who do it. Take the log out of your own eye and do unto others as you would have others do unto you. These are challenging lessons from Jesus. They require an enormous amount of humility; we cannot possibly live this way with our own strength alone. That’s why John the Baptist and Jesus begin the Gospel of Matthew telling us to repent: turn away from all of that, and turn towards God. Make God your focus, make Jesus your firm foundation. Jesus will help you to survive the storms of life and to live lives of humility and love in the midst of it.
That’s why Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount with this important teaching in Matthew 7:24-27: “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!” Jesus is our rock. When we turn away from Jesus, we find ourselves on the shifting sands and overwhelmed by the storms of life. But when we turn to Jesus, we live our lives from a firm foundation: a foundation of love and humility, this new humanity that God has created through Jesus by the Holy Spirit living in us.
And so, when we are confronted with evil, let us take the log out of our own eye. Let us respond with repentance and bring love into situations that are loveless. In all things, let us do unto others as we would have others do unto us. Amen.