“‘1 Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in you own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log in your own eye? 5 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.
6 Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you.’”
Jesus has just gone to great lengths to help His listeners see more clearly the good character of their heavenly Father. He had told them that He is a Father who is present, who sees them “in secret” even when no one else is paying attention, and is ready to reward them for care and comfort. He told them not to be anxious because their heavenly Father knows them, knows their needs, is directly active in His creation, and therefore in their lives. By trusting in God to be their true heavenly Father, they were free to devote themselves to seeking His kingdom, to living according to His good, perfect will.
Jesus now turns to the subject of judgment. Now what makes this passage at first seem difficult to understand is the meaning of the word “judgment.” Judgment has mainly two meanings. When we use the word judgment, we can mean discerning, weighing, or seeking to know the truth about something. Or judgment can be used in the sense of passing sentence on or deciding payment, reward, or condemnation. In fact, the Greek word used here for judgment has the double meaning of discernment and condemnation.
To understand which of these meanings Jesus has in mind here, it will help to look at the section as a whole. It does not seem that Jesus is telling them not to judge in terms of discerning. It takes discerning to see and remove obstacles to vision. And in order to avoid tossing our pearls before swine, we need to be able to distinguish what our pearls are and who are the swine of whom we need to be careful. He opposes the idea of using our powers of discernment only on others and not on ourselves as well. It would seem from verse 5, “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” that the ultimate purpose of discernment here is restoration, healing, or sanctification. The benefit of discerning the speck in your brother’s eye is the same as that of discerning the log in your own--so that both can be removed and you can both see more clearly. The problem develops when we think that we can see what is needed to be removed from others’ lives without examining our own.
If the point of discerning then is to move towards greater wholeness, then the real problem seems to be when we want to use discerning as a way to “lord it over” others or control others, rather than out of trust in God’s work and hope for transformation. Jesus just finished urging His listeners to seek the kingdom of God first and foremost. The prayer he taught earlier makes the same point. We are to pray for God’s good and perfect will to be done here on earth as it is in heaven.
In other words, to be seeking His kingdom is to hope that what is happening now in our lives and in our world is not the last word. We are those who are poor in spirit, who know that we cannot give ourselves life or our identities. We are longing for God to forgive, heal, and transform us. We hope that we will not be left where we are now. It is in understanding this context of hope in God that we can understand this passage. We are not to judge others in the way of passing final judgment on them or condemning them. We do not allow our discernment to be the “last word” on them any more than we want others to declare the “last word” on us. Our hope is that God can heal and transform even those who have hurt us. We can recognize that the truth is, only God knows the heart of each person, and only He knows what the true last word is.
Our discernment then comes out of this hope and trust in God’s presence and activity. How sad to be able to see and attempt to remove the speck in another’s eye, but to be content to leave a log in our own! We are to be discerning for the sake of participating in God's work of healing in ourselves and in others.
Jesus goes on to warn His listeners with two images, similar to each other. In both there is a great discontinuity between what is being given and the possible receiver of the gift. The gifts are very precious, “what is holy” and “pearls”. The possible recipients are “dogs” and “swine”. But what is the connection between this warning and the previous section? Is Jesus just throwing in a random statement that has nothing to do with what He just said, beyond that it does involve discernment?
Jesus wants His listeners to pay close attention to what they are offering others, and to consider whether others are ready to receive the offering. Is He then helping His listeners further in how to go about being able to take the speck out of another's eye? Before we can help another person, we need to consider where they are right now, and whether what we want to share with them, they are ready to receive. I don’t think Jesus is using the images of dogs and pigs to be derogatory towards anyone, but to highlight the inappropriateness of the gifts. A dog cannot benefit from what is holy and a pig is not in any way helped by the offer of pearls. To be truly helpful to another is to provide them with something that they can hear and understand in the circumstances in which they currently find themselves. The wisdom you have may truly be wonderful, but if they don’t yet have ears to hear, it will be useless.
Now so often we want to share our "pearls" with others because we feel the responsibility of making them "see the light." It is hard to slow down, and give someone only the next step. Shouldn't we share all that we know? Isn't it up to us to make God's work happen on earth? No, the truth is that any judging we do, any discerning is a participation in the judging and discerning that Jesus does. He is the One who knows us, who has come to unite Himself to us for our healing and transformation. We do not know "the last word" on anyone, but He does.
Our relationships are to be lived out in the context of seeking God’s kingdom. When we desire what our heavenly Father desires--wholeness, peace, true justice, life--then we are free from the need to dismiss people, or to put them into categories that we won’t let them ever move out from. We can leave them in His hands, and ask Him to enable us to see them, and ourselves through His eyes. Does He dismiss us, or put us in a box so that there is no hope for us, no possibility to leave what damages us behind? No, God shows us in Jesus, in becoming one with us, that His intention for His creation, for us, is to make all things new--to transform us to be His true children.
Trusting in Jesus to give us His word about us and about others, we are freed to hope in His transforming work, in His ability to make us able to share in His life.
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