18 August 2016

Matthew 7:1-6

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged.” (vv. 1-2)

Psalm: Psalm 136:1-9


This is one of the few places in the Gospels where we perhaps get a glimpse of Jesus' background in the home of a carpenter. He uses a deliberately ridiculous exaggeration to make his point. Imagine, he seems to say, you are in a carpenter's workshop. You start to complain that your neighbour has a speck of sawdust in their eye, without noticing that you have a whole plank sticking out of your own! We may laugh, but the point gets home. We generally find it much easier to spot what is wrong with other people than what is amiss in our own behaviour. So Jesus reminds us that judgement is reciprocal. If we assume the right to judge others (and this could be in a whole range of situations from informal conversation to legal judgements) then we should not be surprised if the spotlight is turned on our own life and our faults and failings are revealed and punished.  

The reputation of Christians and of the Church has often - with good reason - been the exact opposite of Jesus' teaching in these verses. They have been associated with judging and condemning across a whole range of human behaviour. Today, the tables are turned and Churches often find themselves judged and condemned for examples of abuse and for a failure to be inclusive.

The reader of Matthew's Gospel will know that, towards the end of the story, Jesus himself - though completely innocent - is judged and condemned by those who represented violence and self-interest. He became (to quote the theologian, Karl Barth) "the judge judged in our place".

And then at the end of the passage is a reminder that when Jesus asks us not to be judgemental he doesn't mean that we forget any sense of discrimination. We still use the saying 'do not throw your pearls before swine' as a proverb - though perhaps not in the way Jesus intended. He seems to be telling us to be careful about the way we use God's gifts and to make sure we don't abuse them or encourage others to do so.

To Ponder

  • Think of those you tend to judge. How could you develop a more constructive attitude towards them?
  • What might a harsh critic find to judge in your life? How would you hope to be treated by those who found you out? 

Bible notes author

The Revd Dr Richard Clutterbuck

Richard Clutterbuck is a minister of the Methodist Church in Britain but since 2004 has served the Irish Methodist Church as principal of Edgehill Theological College in Belfast. His ministry has been divided between pastoral appointments in North London and theological education in the South Pacific (Tonga), Britain and Ireland.