“Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove that splinter from your eye,’ while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.” (Matthew 7:15-20)
What is Jesus teaching us in these passages?
1) Many will try to deceive us. Many will claim to be good who aren’t. How can we identify the false prophets? How can we tell who is a good person and who is claiming to be good but is in fact doing evil? “By their fruits you will know them.” Their fruits are their actions, and the effects of their actions. Good fruit is doing the will of God. Good fruit is performing works of mercy (corporal and spiritual). Jesus is telling us we must be able to discern the difference between the righteous and those attempting (wittingly or not) to lead us astray.
2) Jesus is calling us to discern between good and evil, but as sinners we have no right to judge other sinners. “As you judge, so you will be judged.” We all face the temptation to mount our high horse and let other people know just what’s wrong with them – often we’re more apt to do this to those closest to us. This is a form of pride, the worst of sins.
Imagine standing before Jesus on the Day of Judgement. (Sooner or later, this Day is coming!) How would you want Him to judge you? He loves you more than you can imagine. He underwent His bitter Passion for your sake. Shouldn’t you show your brothers and sisters the same mercy He showed you?
What’s more, God’s mercy is greater than we can ever fathom. Saint Faustina wrote, “I often communicate with persons who are dying and obtain the divine mercy for them. Oh, how great is the goodness of God, greater than we can understand. There are moments and there are mysteries of the divine mercy over which the heavens are astounded. Let our judgement of souls cease, for God’s mercy upon them is extraordinary.” (Diary of Saint Faustina, 1684)
3) Jesus does not say you should ignore the splinter in your brother’s (or sister’s) eye. He says to first remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will be able to remove the splinter from another’s eye. In other words, we cannot help others grow in holiness if we do not regularly examine our own conscience, avail ourselves of the sacrament of reconciliation, make amends to those we have wronged, and perform acts of penance (especially, prayer, fasting and almsgiving).
4) The last thing Jesus is trying to do is invite us into a kind of moral relativism by telling us not to judge. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is calling all of us to a higher level of happiness through a higher level of holiness. He uses the Ten Commandments as His starting point and takes them a step further to root out the evil in our hearts that separates us from God and each other.
When we strive to grow in holiness we become more aware of our sinfulness and our need for God’s mercy. As we experience the love and mercy of God we are moved to show mercy to others. Admonishing the sinner is a work of mercy! But we must always admonish tenderly, with love, the love He shows us. Our admonishments will fall on deaf ears if the other person doesn’t know how much we love and care for them; and also, how much Jesus loves and cares for them.
Image: Sermon on the Mount by James Tissot (downloaded from Wikipedia Commons).