“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘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 neighbor’s eye.
~ Matthew 7:1-5 (NRSV)
This summer, as many of you know, I have enjoyed working out in my garden. I took quite a bit of time this spring to plant lots of new flowers and vegetables and it has been so exciting to see each of them grow. Some have grown bigger than expected and produced beautiful flowers and abundant veggies, while others have not quite lived up to my expectations. But the lesson that I have learned through all of it is that, besides the few seedlings that were eaten by bunnies, you truly do reap what you sow. Where I planted marigold seeds, guess what grew. Marigolds. Where I planted zucchini seeds, guess what grew. Zucchini. Where I planted tomato seeds guess what grew. Tomatoes. And where I planted morning glories seeds, guess what grew. Morning glories! So, the simple lesson here is: don’t sow beans if you want to grow beets!
Friends, in our scripture reading today, we hear Jesus teaching about morals and the best way to live as he preaches the Sermon on the Mount. In this part of the sermon, Jesus talks about judgment. He says, “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make; you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” In other words, you reap what you sow. You can’t sow anger and expect to reap peace. You can’t sow impatience and expect to reap perseverance. You can’t sow gossiping and complaining and expect to reap integrity.
Friends, if all of this sowing and reaping is true, then what if we sow good things? If we sow mercy, then we will receive mercy. What if we sow kindness? Then we will receive kindness. And what if we sow love and joy and grace? Then we’ll receive love and joy and grace in return. Sometimes it takes a little while for the seeds to grow and for the plants to mature. The harvest may not be immediate, my friends, but in due time, it will be plentiful.
Now as I told you earlier, I took quite a bit of time this spring to plant my garden, tilling the ground and planting the seeds, fertilizing the soil and keeping it watered. But the seeds that we sow in our everyday lives, they are sown whether we are thinking about them or not. So the way that we treat the people around us informs them of how we want to be treated ourselves. Friends, we are always sowing seeds and teaching others by the examples of what we say and do. That part, though we may sometimes forget it, is relatively easy to understand.
The next part that Jesus was talking about is a little more difficult for us to see. Literally! Jesus says, “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?” I sometimes think Jesus goes a little overboard with the “log in your eye” illustration, but he is simply trying to make clear a situation that we sometimes can’t see ourselves.
Friends, the truth is we all like to think that we are not judgmental, but we judge people all the time. We are quick to criticize, and we critique others as if we were perfect ourselves. But Jesus’ teaching is clear. He says, “Don’t judge!” Instead of worrying about what everyone else is doing, why don’t we deal with our own issues? Why don’t we work on our own growing edges and handle the poor choices and mistakes that we make before we try correcting someone else’s, metaphorically taking the log out of our own eye before taking the speck out of our neighbor’s?
Well, this is yet another place where our faith and our society teach us two very different lessons. Jesus simply says, “Don’t judge!” When society sneaks in and says, “Well, if someone agrees with you, they must have an open mind. But if they disagree with you, they are closed-minded and judgmental.” Have you ever heard that, seen people react that way, or even reacted that way yourself? We see it all the time in politics and between sports teams. It’s the old “if you’re not with me you’re against me” scenario.
The truth is having a preference about something is absolutely fine, but judgment is when you take that preference to the next level. It’s saying that it’s not just about what I like but it’s about what’s wrong with you for not liking it too. Again, Jesus’ answer is simple. Not only in today’s scripture does he say “Don’t judge others,” but over and over again he tells us to simply love them. Friends, what’s the greatest commandment? “To love the Lord your God will all of your heart and soul and mind and strength.” And what is the second? “To love your neighbor as yourself.” Friends, Jesus tells us to love our neighbor no matter what their opinions are. He even says love your enemies and the people you disagree with! Because you don’t need to agree, or to see eye to eye, or to understand where they’re coming from, you simply need to love them.
Friends, one of the greatest gifts that we receive on a daily basis is the unconditional love and grace of God. It’s a gift that we receive no matter what we have said or done. It’s a gift that God will never take away from us, no matter how many poor choices we make. So why do we think it’s up to us to decide who is right and who is wrong? Why do we think that we can decide who is in and who is out? If, as Christians, our job is to be like Jesus, and if every day we receive the unconditional love and grace of God, shouldn’t we be sharing that with every single person we meet rather than trying to decide who is worthy and who isn’t, or who is right and who is wrong, or who is deserving and who takes advantage of every situation they find themselves in? Could Jesus’ teaching be more direct? Work on bettering yourself. Love your neighbor, whoever your neighbor might be, and leave the judging to God.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Search within yourself, and be the best that you can be. Don’t judge or criticize others. Instead, sow seeds of love and grace and compassion, and teach others about the good news of Jesus by the example you set in your everyday life.
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God. Amen!