bible blog 1158

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:


Pope John Paul !!

Pope John Paul !!

Matthew 7:1-12

New English Translation (NET)

Do Not Judge

7 “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For by the standard you judge you will be judged, and the measure you use will be the measure you receive. Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye, but fail to see the beam of wood in your own? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye,’ while there is a beam in your own? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.

Ask, Seek, Knock

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you then, although you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 In everything, treat others as you would want them to treat you, for this fulfills the law and the prophets.

judgementJesus himself was constantly engaged in making judgements about good and evil, so he cannot have meant that his followers should not do so. So we can interpret his teaching as a prohibition of passing judgement on people. This is of course one of the great human pleasures; ranking others by our moral judgement on their characters. Nothing gives more satisfaction than a shrewd, wise, judgement which places someone just below ourself and the person we’re talking to.  Jesus recognised the arrogance involved in this, and forbade it, warning that God would measure us by the same standards we have used to measure others. This is such an appalling  thought that we instinctively reject it. Surely God is merciful? Yes, but Jesus also taught that If we want God’s mercy, we must show it to others. 

Jesus uses a broad humour to depict the sharpness with which we diagnose the faults of others, while remaining blind to our own. I wonder what he thinks of the sanctification of a Pope well-known for his moral severity, who ordered the concealment of the sexual abuse of children by  priests. It is true that the policy of concealment was not invented by John Paul, but it was continued by him at a time when there was clear evidence that concealment allowed offenders to repeat their cruelty. The best one can say on behalf of the Pope is that he was concerned for the welfare of the Church. Yes, more concerned for the reputation of its hierarchy than for harm done to its children. As I am not one of those abused children I can hope that God will be merciful to John Paul, but if  I were one of them I might well hope that God would be give him his just deserts, even if He were merciful in the end. In any case the planned sanctification of this man looks very like wilful blindness to a huge log in the church’s eye. 

But now as I catch myself feeling satisfied by my critique of the late Pope, I have to ask if I am “judging” him, not to mention if I am ignoring a log in my own eye. I think we are asked to discriminate good and evil in our own and others’ behaviour, while looking on every bother and sister with the kindness of God.

The command not to give holy things to dogs and pigs, rings strangely in ears accustomed to Jesus’ generosity.  The wording is obscure –  what exactly are the holy things that might be given to dogs, are they temple sacrifices?- and what is it about pearls and pigs? – but it seems clear that Jesus is warning against offering his teaching to those who can only despise it. Dietrich Bonhoeffer saw this injunction as part of the “secret discipline” of discipleship; the disciple’s relationship with God cannot be offered to worldly people without degrading it.

The Baal Shem , a great Rabbi of the 18th century, was once heard by his disciples praying in words from the Song of Songs, “New and old have I gathered up for thee,” to which he added the words, “Only for thee.” At this, one disciple spoke up, saying, “Surely the Master has good things for us as well!” The Master replied, “As when the barrel overflows.”

The encouragement to ask, seek and knock shows that Jesus’ advocated an active faith: God is not a substitute for our own moral and spiritual effort. The miracle of God is not that He is simply present like a stone nor even that He is at the end of all searching, but rather that those are who active in their moral and spiritual development know God is also active in the whole process, as the partner of their asking, seeking and knocking, just as parents are active in the encouragement of their children.  

good gifts to your children

good gifts to your children

When, for example I am trying to let go a desire to denigrate a colleague, God cannot be summoned to fix the problem in advance, nor is God merely present as a reward for my success if I succeed or as a punishment if I fail, but rather I experience God in the struggle to understand my own motives, in the shame of recognising what they are, and in the determination to resist them. There is nothing that happens to me in this process that does not happen to an atheist undergoing the same process, yet for me, it is where the Father is asked and sought and found.

Jesus version of the “golden rule” sums up his sermon: we are to “do-as we-would-be-done-by” – by others and by God. It is a very neat harnessing of self-interest for the cause of altruism.

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