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"The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached: What Goes Around Comes Around"

Matthew 7:1-6

Rev. Ron Holmes

July 1, 2007

We are continuing in our series on "The Greatest Sermon Ever Preached," Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Today’s topic is that of judgment and it reinforces some of what Jesus taught earlier. Today’s sermon, entitled What Goes Around Comes Around, reiterates some themes heard earlier in the Sermon on the Mount: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will mercy;" "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors." Today, "do not judge for you’ll be judged by the same measure." (Read Matthew 7:1-6)

A husband makes an appointment with the family doctor out of concern, and a great deal of frustration, over his wife’s apparent hearing loss. "I think she’s going deaf," he says to the doctor. "She never hears me the first time I say something to her. In fact, I have to repeat things over and over again before she responds." "Well," the doctor responds, "until she’s willing to come in to see me, here’s something you can do to help measure the severity of her loss of hearing. When you get home, stand about 15 feet away from her and say something. If she doesn’t reply, move five feet closer and say it again. Keep doing this until she replies so we can get some idea of the severity of her deafness." This seemed like a good idea to the husband, so he decided to try it. When he got home, his wife was in the kitchen chopping vegetables. Standing about 15 feet away from her, he says to her, "Honey, what’s for dinner?" No response. So he moves a little bit closer and asks again, "Honey, what’s for dinner?" Still no response. Moving a bit closer, he asks again. No response. Finally, he moves right next to her and asks for the last time, "Honey, what’s for dinner?" To which she replies, "For the fourth time, vegetable stew!"

It is a fact of life: We will look at the faults of others with the fine eye of a microscope, seeing every flaw in great, and sometimes imagined, detail while looking at our own faults with a blind eye, sometimes even a favorable eye. When driving, for example. How often do we find ourselves frustrated and critical of someone’s driving? We honk the horn. We say with indignation, "How dare they cut in front of me that way!" Yet, when we make the exact same move, "It was necessary because I need to pull into that shopping center ahead." Or even, "Only someone with great driving skills like mine could’ve squeezed into that little space at 65 mph!" It is a fact of life, we are much more judgmental of the actions of others than we are of our own actions.

It is to that fact of life that Jesus is speaking today. "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you." Do we really want to be judged in the same way we judge others, with the same measure we use in judging others? Again, Jesus reminds us that the actions we take will result in similar actions toward us. Earlier, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy," (Matthew 5:7). You want mercy? Be merciful to others. Later, "Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us," (Matthew 6:12). You want forgiveness for your sins? Be forgiving toward others. And today, "…in the same way you judge others, you will be judged," (Matthew 7:2). You want fairness, compassion when you are judged? Be fair and compassionate in your judging.

Notice that Jesus is not saying we are not to be discerning about right and wrong behavior. At the conclusion of our passage for today, Jesus cautions against giving sacred things to dogs, casting our pearls to pigs—a reference to the realities of sharing our faith with someone hardened to the extreme against receiving it. Some are not just resistant to hearing the good news of Jesus Christ, they are violently opposed to it. You do more harm than good in casting the pearls of the gospel before such a person. Jesus calls for discernment, making difficult but necessary judgments about such realities—cautiously identifying the dogs or pigs that will tear you to pieces if given something sacred.

Jesus also calls for discerning judgment later in his Sermon on the Mount when he tells us to watch out for false prophets. We must use discerning judgment, Jesus says, in identifying false prophets by their fruit, by the true witness of their lives.

So, Jesus is not saying we are never to use discerning judgment. After all, the person in the illustration Jesus uses does have a speck of sawdust in his eye. Sawdust in the eye hurts! A person with sawdust in his or her eye would benefit from its removal. What Jesus cautions against is the kind of uncaring, critical judgment that does more harm than good—the kind of judgment that comes from our tendency to look critically at the faults of others while being blind to our own. To make sure we get the point, Jesus uses this wonderfully hyperbolic image—how can you judge the speck of sawdust in someone’s eye when there is a plank in your own eye! Make sure you are conscious of, and working on your own imperfections before assisting others with their imperfections. Again, Jesus uses the word "hypocrite." By my count, the fourth and final time he uses that word in his sermon, describing someone who is a phony, acting out a part that is not true to their real character. Earlier, he used the word "hypocrite" to describe someone who showed a phony piety in their giving, praying and fasting. But here he describes what I think is the worse kind of hypocrisy; harsh, damaging criticism that fails to see or acknowledge our own similar weaknesses, a "greater than thou" kind of self-righteous judgment that drives people away from the gospel rather than to the gospel’s comforting mercy and grace. What kind of hurt has been experienced by someone who says, "I have no interest in becoming a Christian because Christians are nothing but hypocrites"? What self-righteous criticism, what double standard judgment drove that person to such a perspective? We cause a lot of damage when we fail to heed the caution of Jesus’ words in this passage.

Being a pastor and being involved in a denomination that connects pastors and parishioners to others throughout the country with an abundance of opinions on a variety of topics, I frequently find myself in discussions around those topics. In those discussions, I have observed the negative behavior Jesus cautions against. At times, I’ve been guilty of it myself—an honest assessment forces me to admit that—and I repent of it and seek to move myself further away from such behavior. What I consciously seek to exhibit, more and more, is an attitude that says, "I know I’m not perfect, nor do I have perfect understanding of what the Bible says about this or that topic. I could be wrong about this. But, given that, here is what I understand the Bible leads me to say and do about this topic." Oftentimes, in such complicated, potentially volatile discussions, I will literally preface my comments with those words. I think it is something like that that Jesus is calling us to today. Don’t use Jesus’ caution against judging as an excuse for ignoring the wrong taking place around you—"I have no right to address that because Jesus tells us not to judge others." That’s not what Jesus is asking us to do. Jesus is asking us to help remove the speck of sawdust from another person’s eye. But, before doing so, we had better be honest about and humbled by the awareness of our own weaknesses and faults, our own planks in our eyes. That attitude had better come through loud and clear. Otherwise, we are only hypocrites who are hindering the advancement of the gospel rather than contributing to its growth.


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