Commentary on Matthew 7:1-5
We begin today the last chapter of the Sermon on the Mount. “Do not judge, and you will not be judged”, that is, by God. This is a good example of Matthew using an impersonal passive voice to avoid mentioning the name of God which is understood. Another example is where he has Jesus say, “Whose sins you shall forgive, they will be forgiven” [by God].
Jesus today touches on an issue in which very few of us can claim innocence – passing judgment on others. Sometimes we call it gossip which seems harmless enough and very often it is relatively harmless. And yet at times we can spend a long time tearing other people apart, revealing to others information about people which they do not need to know. What Jesus says is so true. We focus on a tiny speck in someone else’s eye while there is a large plank in our own.
In fact, that is probably why we are so fond of indulging in this exercise. Our purpose is not so much to bring another person down as to bring ourselves up. Often those we judge are higher placed than we are or more gifted or more educated. To some extent unconsciously, we feel inferior. One way to even things up is to bring them down, to reveal their feet of clay.
But, as Jesus says, this is a kind of hypocrisy. Given our own faults, what right have we to sit in judgement on another? So often our judgements are based on the purely external or on incomplete evidence. We condemn acts while being quite ignorant of the motives behind the acts. Only God is in a position to make an accurate judgement of a person’s strengths or weaknesses.
Linked with all this is the fact that, nine times out of ten, we would never make our criticisms face to face. This, on the one hand, is a form of cowardice and, on the other, proves our hypocrisy because we make no effort to help the person make the changes we would like to see. It might be a good resolution for us to promise only to criticise people to their face and then in a non-judgmental fashion. And to give them an opportunity to express their side. Sometimes we will find that our criticisms are without real foundation or we will find the person grateful for drawing attention to something they were unaware of.
And removing that plank from our eye is another way of saying that, before we make any evaluation of another, we need to be sure that our view is totally free from any prejudice or bias. We do have a serious responsibility to draw attention to things that people do wrong, especially if others or they themselves are hurt, but it is a responsibility we often shirk. Gossiping behind their backs is so much more fun. But, in the long run, it helps no one.