Monday, March 9, 2009

Mike: Matthew 7:1-5

"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)

What kind of judgment does Jesus have in mind? Our answer determines our response to the passage. For example, when we say someone has good judgment, we usually mean he or she possesses discernment, whether when dealing with decisions or with others. They make wise decisions. If Jesus is calling us to refrain from discernment and decision-making, we have a problem, don't we?

Insofar as I can tell, that's not what Jesus has in mind. Instead, he speaks of the all too human tendency to label others negatively. We too often think we can categorize others as wrong or right, good or bad, and the like. Frankly, we may subject ourselves to the same kind of self-evaluation. Theologically speaking, the Christian tradition generally teaches only God can rightly judge the heart of a human and that only God has the "right" and wisdom to do so. When we judge, we in effect try to take God's place. We cannot bear such a burden well, so inevitably we wind up hurting others and ourselves.

More subtly, such judgment may mask our desire and need to control our environment. We want to keep others "in their place," deprive them of power, or eliminate them as "players." We're afraid of certain aspects of ourselves, so we project our dark side on others and attack it. We judge because it makes us feel safe, though in reality the practice puts us in grave danger of alienation from God, others and even ourselves.

Discernment generally engenders humility and compassion. Judgment, on the other hand, breeds pride, disdain and violence.

How might we remove the log in our own eye? I think we need help. In my religious tradition, we believe Holy Spirit undertakes to help us see the log and remove it. As you might expect, this is not a one-time event but an ongoing process. Personally, I've found it helpful to meditate on scriptures such as Matthew 7:1-5, read how others have identified and dealt with the matter, and listen to a handful of close friends who sometimes know me better than I know myself.

I must say the reward of pursuing discernment while dropping judgment is considerable. Our need to win, be right, dominate, and determine who is in or out diminishes. We indeed become able to be more honest about our own dark side, which in turn enables us to more readily accept and enjoy our gifts. As humility grows, we relax. After all, we're no longer out to remake the world and others into our own image! Instead, we learn how to appreciate the individuality of others. Our task is redefined. Now we seek to discern and nurture the gifts of others. We also learn how to enjoy others and be enriched by what they bring to the table.

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