Monday, April 13th
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.
Today we find ourselves in the first Monday of Eastertide, a time where we are called to live as Easter people, a time to, in the poetic words of Wendell Berry, “practice resurrection.” In seeking to understand that this season is a calling, we might first look at the language and discover that the word “easter” has many uses. Obviously, it works as a noun, denoting a particular day and season. “Easter” also works as an adjective as in “Easter people.” However, I love the way the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins uses it.
Hopkins was a Jesuit poet, and in his poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland” he uses the word “easter” as a verb, “Let him easter in us.” What’s more, this verb has diverse capabilities. A verb’s “voice” can be “active” or “passive.” In his poem Hopkins creates versatility in the word by having “easter” as something that happens to us and something that we are called to do.
Interestingly enough, I think Jesus’ words in today’s text anticipate this concept in a way. As we return to his most famous “Sermon on the Mount,” we see him deftly move from talking about our relationship with God to some forthright words about our relationship to our fellow man.
This section also gives us a hint of Jesus’ sense of humor, edged with a touch of sarcasm as he talks about the absurdity of pointing out a splinter in someone else’s eye when we have a log in our own! (As I’ve mentioned before, I think Jesus had a keen sense of humor, something akin to Will Rogers or Mark Twain.)
Jesus begins this portion of the sermon with a comment on judgment. This was an important concept for Jesus, because seeing with God’s eyes made him keenly aware of the unfairness and injustice he saw in the world around him. You will remember that some of his final teachings in the Temple dealt with the judgment. Granted, Jesus used hyperbolic language at times, but only to emphasize the importance of our actions. In this particular instance Jesus talks about the discerning wisdom inherent in judging.
The truth is, being a judge is not all that easy, which I discovered in an uncomfortable way when I was serving at Clemson’s First Baptist Church. One day I received a call from Ruth Lennon, a church member and wife of the university president, asking for a favor. She mentioned that Clemson’s Homecoming was less than a month away and asked me to serve as a judge in choosing the Homecoming queen. I initially tried to decline her request, because, as I told her, I had never done anything like that before, and perhaps Lisa would be better at it. Ruth was undeterred and said that the committee needed a man, someone who would be regarded as unbiased. She wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and I finally consented. It turned out to be a fun experience, until the time came when I actually had to judge. After the voting was over and the queen was chosen, I remember going home and Lisa asking, “Well, how did it go? Was it fun?” I said, “Well, yes and no. It was fun meeting all those people. And let me just tell you, there is one girl on campus who thinks I am a terrific human being and a wonderful judge of character and beauty. However, there are 49 others who think I’m a jerk who wouldn’t know beauty or character if they came up and slapped him in the face, which most of them would probably like to do tonight.”
Being a judge is not an easy thing to do, especially if it is done with integrity. One of my dear friends was a judge, and I was constantly in awe of his keen intellect, wisdom, and breadth of knowledge. But what made him a remarkable judge was his impeccable sense of fairness. And that wasn’t easy for him. I watched as some decisions weighed heavily on his heart. Sometimes his decisions were unpopular, so much so, that he had to have federal marshals as bodyguards. He remains a model and inspiration for me, especially in light of today’s warnings from Jesus.
Nelson Mandela exercised such judgment. When he emerged from prison after twenty-seven years of confinement and then was elected president of South Africa, he asked his jailer to join him on the inaugural platform, which must have been a puzzle to many. One of his first official acts was to appoint Archbishop Desmond Tutu to head an official government panel that had a most daunting name — The Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mandela sought to exercise the fairest sense of justice, while at the same time defusing the natural pattern of revenge that he had seen in so many countries where one oppressed race or tribe took control from another. For the next two and a half years, South Africans listened to reports of atrocities that were revealed during the TRC hearings. The rules were simple: if a white policeman or army officer voluntarily faced his accusers, confessed his crime, and fully acknowledged his guilt, he could not be tried and punished for that crime. Hard-liners grumbled about the obvious injustice of letting criminals go free, but Mandela insisted that the country needed healing just as, or even more than, it needed justice.
At one hearing, a policeman named van de Broek recounted an incident when he and other officers shot an eighteen-year-old boy and then burned his body, turning it on the fire like a piece of barbeque meat in order to destroy the evidence. Eight years later van de Broek returned to the same house and seized the boy’s father. The wife was forced to watch as policemen bound her husband on a woodpile, poured gasoline over his body, and ignited it. The courtroom grew hushed as the elderly woman who had lost first her son and then her husband was given a chance to respond. “What do you want from Mr.van de Broek?” the judge asked. She said she wanted the officer to go with her to the place where they had burned her husband’s body so that she could gather up the dust and give him a decent burial. His head down, the policeman nodded agreement. Then she added a further request, “Mr. van de Broek took all my family away from me, and I still have a lot of love to give. Twice a month, I would like for him to come to the ghetto and spend a day with me so I can be a mother to him. And I would like Mr. van de Broek to know that he is forgiven by God, and that I forgive him too. I would like to embrace him so he can know my forgiveness is real. Spontaneously, some in the courtroom began singing “Amazing Grace” as the elderly woman made her way to the witness stand, but van de Broek did not hear the hymn; he had fainted, overwhelmed.
Jesus’ sermon is not a litany of ways to get along in the world; it is a collection of spiritual disciplines to get us ready for the Kingdom of Heaven. Therefore, let us focus not on simply seeking or requesting what we want, but rather considering what God would want. It is, after all, simply a matter of using good judgment.
A Time of Reflection and Prayer
- What makes for good judgment? Is it a trait that is innate in some persons, or is it learned?
- Who is the fairest person you know? What have you seen in their life that causes you to regard them in this way? Give God thanks for her/him, and ask God to plant seeds of justice in your own life.
- Pray that our church might be known for its sense of compassion, fairness, and justice. Are there specific things we might do? Let God grant you wisdom to help us “easter” in our world.
A Guide for Prayer: Sir Francis Drake
Disturb us, O Lord
when we are too well-pleased with ourselves
when our dreams have come true because we dreamed too little,
because we sailed too close to the shore.
Disturb us, O Lord
when with the abundance of things we possess,
we have lost our thirst for the water of life
when, having fallen in love with time,
we have ceased to dream of eternity
and in our efforts to build a new earth,
we have allowed our vision of Heaven to grow dim.
Stir us, O Lord
to dare more boldly, to venture into wider seas
where storms show Thy mastery,
where losing sight of land, we shall find the stars.
In the name of Him who pushed back the horizons of our hopes
and invited the brave to follow.