Saturday, September 3, 2011

Thoughts on Matthew

Even though I read the Bible in a haphazard manner, skipping around and such, I’ve noticed that, of the Gospel accounts, I always end up beginning with Matthew (c. AD 40-65). This time was no different. My journal notes contain thoughts on a number of passages, but today I wanted to discuss the infamous passage on judging others:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log 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 brother’s eye.” – Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)

There’s a hint at a difference in the quality of the two sins by Jesus Christ’s choice of words (e.g., “speck” and “log” in the English Standard Version; “tiny particle” and “beam of timber” in the Amplified Bible; “mote” and “beam” in the King James Version/Authorized Version). As many a children’s Sunday School teachers has pointed out, we should be aware of our hypocrisy and self-righteousness when we’re tempted to criticize other sinners while still wallowing in our own sin. However, as 7:5 says, our sin doesn’t preclude us from judging others at all, but only that God requires our own self-reflection and repentance before correcting others. In addition, I’d argue that the verse says that those who have healed from “worse” sins have a right – an obligation – to correct those with “minor” ones.

On the surface, that might not bother many people. However, in practice, things don’t always work out that way. Most Christians seem unprepared to accept godly criticism from each other. Maybe there’s one acceptation. We expect the woman who used to sleep around and had six kids out of wedlock to tell the junior highers to save sex for marriage, but that’s about it. If the same woman pulled you aside because you were being rude, prideful, or something of that kind, would you listen? Or would you be thinking, She used to be the town slut. I think most would fall in the latter category.

Ignoring the fact that we Christians are quite willing to take instruction from Christ-denying Peter and Christian-persecuting Paul, we’re quite insistent that the rest of humanity should feel their guilt and do perpetual penance for their mistakes, looking to those who haven’t committed comparable sins as spiritual superiors. However, Matthew tells us that these former sinners have something to teach current sinners, regardless of how their faults are compared. It would take a special kind of maturity to bite one’s lip, show humility, and acknowledge a judgment from another Christian. Their success in overcoming grave sins deserves our respect and a willingness to reexamine ourselves in light of their accusations.