Wrong Forms of Critical Judgement
Matthew 7:1-6 says that it is wrong to judge others in four senses.
First, Jesus says, we are blind but claim to be able to see. How can we see when we have a great big plank in our eyes? So often, in a pub or a restaurant, we overhear conversations between opinionated types – full of judgmental assertions, lacking all argumentative rigour, and embarrassing to listen to. This is what Jesus is on about.
Second, we judge small issues but fail to see big issues. We focus in on a small speck, and yet ignore a large plank. So often, in public places, we overhear people impatiently squabbling over trifles. At a distance, however, it looks like an entire relational pattern has gone wrong, that the trifles themselves are not the issue. Gnats are being strained out, but camels are being swallowed. Jesus is speaking about this too.
Third, we set up a Kangaroo Court to legitimise our sinful interests. Somehow, it isn’t the plank that’s the ‘real’ problem to us, which is why we don’t bother to remove it. This reminds us of the way powerful countries legitimise the exploitation of Third World countries whilst at the same time passing criticism on their patterns of government. Similarly, Jesus attacks the Pharisees, calling them white-washed tombs. The Pharisees had believed their own show of righteousness and were deceived about the truth of their sin.
Fourth, we emphasise others’ sin in order to hide our own. The whole point about focusing on the speck in our brother’s eye is to create a diversion from self-criticism by relativising our sin compared to the ‘much worse’ sin of others, who become our scapegoats. Thus, in the breakdown of relationships sometimes, each thinks it’s the fault of the other, and neither attempts to be self-critical before they point the finger. Some are great at confessing others’ sin from the front of the church under the guise of ‘sharing a difficult experience’. But often their own sin, including their taking revenge on the person being talked about, is far from the spotlight. In the same way, the Pharisees looked down on ‘sinners’ and ‘tax-collectors’, but Jesus said that because the latter often admitted their sins, they would be entering heaven before the Pharisees who were not facing theirs.
Once again, Jesus is correct!
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