daily biblical sermons

It is hypocritical to mercilessly condemn the sins of others, if you yourself are doing the same thing
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Monday, 12th Week of the Year, June 22, 2020
2 Kings 17:5-8, 13-15a, 18, Psalm 59, Matthew 7:1-5

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is a log 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 brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:1-5).



This passage about not judging other people is often interpreted incorrectly. If, for example, you point out serious errors in society or in things that you see in the newspaper or certain ways of life or teachings that some misguided Church officials are giving, you may hear someone say to you, “Jesus said, ‘Judge not, that you not be judged’” (Matthew 7:1). This is said to shut you up so that you can make no moral judgments about the world around you and cannot in any way apply the teachings of Jesus or even the Ten Commandments to the contemporary world and to the society or community in which you live.



This, of course, is an absurd misuse of this teaching of Jesus, which Jesus himself did not follow, nor did St. Paul. Even in this chapter seven of St. Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells us to judge other people. He tells us, “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:5). In other words, clean up your own act first, and then you will be able to help other people clean up their lives by pointing out that they are doing things that are harmful to them. But you will be a hypocrite if you are doing the same – if not worse things – than your neighbor and yet you mercilessly berate him for his evil life.  



Then Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). The dogs and swine refer to people who are incapable of understanding or profiting from your preaching the gospel to them. But in order to follow this teaching, you have to judge the people in your environment and make the judgment that certain people are like dogs and others like swine, and so you should not speak of holy things to them, because they are not ready or capable of benefiting from them, and they may “trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6). So Jesus is teaching us to make judgments about people and decide on the basis of what we observe of them whether it is appropriate to preach the gospel to them or not.



Then, in this same chapter Jesus says, “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many” (Matthew 7:13). In order to follow this teaching you must make a judgment about different ways of living and different people who are living according to these various ways, and after making that judgment, you are to avoid the broad and easy way that you notice most people are taking, because they are on the way to destruction; but you should take the way that you judge to be difficult and narrow and that you see very few people choosing, for that is the way of life. So this requires you to carefully observe the way the people around you are living and to make a judgment that certain ways of living are not good and will lead these people to destruction. Then you make another judgment and decide not to take that way, but to take the way that is difficult and that few people choose, namely the way of those that are truly seeking God and dedicating their life to him.



Finally, in this same chapter, Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15). Here Jesus is telling us to make a very clear judgment based on biblical teaching and his own teaching as well as on our observation of how people around us speak, preach, and live. We are also to judge those in the wider world that we read about in the news. Jesus tells us to judge these people and decide which ones are true prophets and which ones are false prophets, who are really ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing trying to deceive the flock by disguising themselves as sheep, but from their actions and words you will be able to judge that they are not sheep, but wolves. Once you make this judgment, you are to beware of them, lest they lead you astray by their false teaching and bad example.



So a good Christian’s life is to be filled with judgments. He is constantly to be judging other people, situations, and the teaching and doctrine of those around him, for many today are not preaching correctly.



So what, then, does Jesus mean when he says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:1-2)? He cannot be telling us to avoid all judgments, for his own teaching contradicts that, but rather we should understand that he is telling us to avoid certain types of judgments that are not good. And what are these judgments? They are rash and false judgments, where you put an evil interpretation on something someone does, when you have no idea why he did what he did. Jesus is speaking of condemnatory judgments in which you write a person off without really knowing what he is actually doing and why he is doing it.



“What our Lord means to condemn, is a censorious and fault-findings spirit. A readiness to blame others for trifling offenses, or matters of indifference – a habit of passing rash and hasty judgments – a disposition to magnify the errors and infirmities of our neighbors, and make the worst of them – this is what our Lord forbids” (JC Ryle, 1856).



We should also not judge other people severely and without mercy if we ourselves are committing the same sins that they are. If in the past we have done something similar to them, but have long since been justified by our faith in Christ and have amended our life and are now trying to live a holy life, then we may in a merciful and sympathetic way try to help others overcome the same faults that God helped us to overcome.



This is taking the log out of our own eye before trying to take the speck out of our neighbor’s eye. But to severely criticize your neighbor, when you yourself are doing the same thing or even something worse than he is doing is nothing but pure hypocrisy and will ensure that God will also judge you in a merciless, severe, and rigorous way for your sins. “For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get” (Matthew 7:2).  



“With what face can you undertake to reprove others for smaller faults, while you are guilty of much greater yourself, and are neither sensible of them, nor have the integrity to amend them (Joseph Benson, 1749-1821)? In other words, clean up your own act first, and then you can without hypocrisy try to help other people clean up their lives, and you will surely do so with much more compassion and mercy, seeing that you once had the same problem yourself. “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam, etc. – It is mere hypocrisy to pretend zeal for the amendment of others, while we have none for our own. Correct, therefore, the errors of thy judgment, and the enormities of thy life. And then – When that which obstructed thy sight is removed, thou shalt see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brothers eye” (Joseph Benson).

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