Judgment and Discernment


Gospel Matthew 7:1–6.15–20

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 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 the 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.
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.


Chapter seven continues and concludes Jesus’ sermon on the mount. It contains further commandments and statements from our Lord and the reaction of the crowds to his teaching. The first point in this chapter relates to judgment and discernment. On the one hand, we are told not to pass a judgment on others (Matt 7:1), yet at the same time, we must be prudent in discerning the recipients of the Gospel (Matt 7:6) and the presence of false prophets among us (Matt 7:15–20).

Judgment


“If you lived among the angels and gave heed to what was going on many things would seem to you not to be good, because you do not understand them. (…) even if you were living among devils, it is the will of God that you should so live as not to turn back in thought to consider what they are doing, but forget them utterly” (Saint John of the Cross). This precaution is a good commentary of Jesus’ commandment: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” by God (Matt 7:1). Where such judgment can lead can be seen in the letter of Paul to the Romans.


The community of Rome was composed of so-called “strong” Christians of Gentile origin and “weak” Christians of Jewish origin. Both groups passed judgment on each other. The strong Christians despised the weak Christians for holding to their Jewish traditions, and the weak Christians were criticizing those Gentile Christians for disregarding the traditions of Moses. Two issues were particularly tearing the community apart: Kosher food and the observance of the Sabbath (Rom 14:1–5). What differences tear our communities apart? One considers themselves ‘liberal’ and another ‘conservative’? Apostle Paul reminds us that we will give an account for our lives. “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another?” (Rom 14:4; James 4:12). Exactly! Who are we? “There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy” (James 4:12). Instead of passing judgment, we should make sure that we do not give offense to our brethren in faith (Rom 14:13). The marks of the Christian community are love, unity, and peace, but if the members bite and devour one another, then such community is on the way to destruction (Gal 5:15).


Yet, there are those among us, who are impatient and righteous, those who object to such kind of lenient attitude. They want to uproot the weeds from the wheat before the harvest time (Matt 13:24–30). For years, Saint Augustine lived in sin, and Saint Teresa of Avila experienced her spiritual awakening when she was almost forty years old. What would happen if some impatient and righteous Christians had ‘removed’ those two precious souls from the flock before the harvest time? To all those impatient and righteous brethren among us, Jesus has this advice. “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” (Matt 7:5). “Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor 4:5).

Discernment


From judgment, we move to discernment. It concerns mission and doctrine of the Church. On the one hand, we are called to go to the whole world with the Gospel, on the other hand, mission needs a strategy. After his dramatic conversion, Saint Paul immediately began to preach the Gospel in the synagogues of Damascus and nearly got himself killed (Acts 9:22–23). Then again, on his first missionary trip, he preached the Gospel to the Jews and failed miserably (Acts 13:46). Finally, when he and his companions wanted to preach the Gospel in Asia, the Holy Spirit forbade them and directed them towards Europe (Acts 16:6–10). Plan, strategy, discernment are needed in all endeavour.


“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matt 7:6). Swines were unclean animals, and so were the scavenging dogs. They both refer to the non-Jews (see Matt 15:21–28). Pearls are precious and are a symbol of God’s kingdom (Matt 13:45–46). Neither dogs can value holy things, nor pigs the pearls. Who are the dogs? Who are the swines? Those who make themselves unfit for the Gospel? Those who do not accept a reproof from God? Jesus’ saying reminds us about the observation of ‘Solomon’: “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you” (Prov 9:7–8). We all can behave like ‘scavenging dogs’, like ‘wild pigs’ trampling upon the holy things and the message of the Gospel. The world does it continuously. It is then necessary to discern a proper missionary strategy. God’s dream is for all the people to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, but there is also a mystery of lawlessness at work in the world that aims to thwart our evangelical efforts.


The second aspect of discernment relates to the truth of the Gospel. Deception aims to present “error as more true that the truth itself” (Saint Irenaeus). Satan deceived Eve and the same spirit of deception operates in the false prophets and teachers. Apostle Paul faced them continuously in his missionary work. They corrupted the message of the Gospel and confused the faithful. We see this today as well. False prophets and enlightened teachers entering Christian community and preaching a different Gospel that neither requires conversion nor conformity with Christ. All is permissible and traditional Christian morality is seen as outdated. Yet, “if anyone [even an angel from heaven] is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:9[8]). Jesus warns us to be on our guard against those false prophets and look at the fruits of their preaching. Do they lead us closer to God or away from Him? Do they guide us along the way of holiness or along the way of “do what pleases you”? Do they bring unity to the Church or tear the Body of Christ apart?