Thursday, July 03, 2008

Judge not -- but then, pigs and dogs?

My friend Linh was reading Matthew chapter 7, and noted the following oddness: Jesus tells us not to judge others, then he talks about not casting pearls before pigs nor giving what is sacred to dogs. I figure this is like what we see in the Psalms or Proverbs, saying the same thing in two different ways.

But wait, first I read I'm not supposed to judge, and then the text assumes that I've already classified people as being either bad (pigs or dogs) or good. What's going on here? So there were a few comments at soulfood4u on the passage. I don't think I have exactly the same view as this person, but neither do I find much to disagree with. soulfood4u seems to be like a devotional, one person's reflections.

Linh also found these comments on devotedservants.com. This site proposes to give a different translation of 7:6 -- "Don't judge as though you won't be judged" or something similar. While this is fine as a paraphrase for personal application, they didn't convince me that as a translation it's an improvement over what the NIV editors have: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged."

So what is going on here? Well, I think the first thing is to look at the passage in a little larger context, which you can do for example on biblegateway.com. My take on this is that Jesus is presenting life in the Kingdom of God and showing how the kingdom attitude differs from the attitude common in the kingdom of this world.

But this isn't just a "be like this; don't be like that" kind of thing; by his astonishing grace, he provides us with some pictures so that we can see that these commands are not just the "right" thing but also the "smart" thing. As our pastor has said more than once, it's really not sufficient to believe Jesus is Lord; we must also believe that Jesus is smart -- that what he says is not only authoritative but also correct and true; that when Jesus and I think differently about something, Jesus is right and I'm wrong.

And here he does it! I'll take the sections just before and just after the passage in question... so in 6:25 Jesus says not to worry about our lives. "What?" we say, "if we don't worry about our lives, if we don't plan for the future and so on, who will?" And Jesus answers our implicit question in verse 26 by appealing to God's generosity (emphasizing by the way that we are much more important to God than birds are). And if you don't believe in God's generosity, then he's got another point for us in verse 27: Worrying doesn't do you any good!

Then in verses 28-32 he encourages us not to worry about lesser things like food and clothing (which in verse 25 he said were less important than the subjects he has already covered). And then in verses 33-34, he directs our gaze upward, onto bigger things: the Kingdom of God.

And in the passage afterwards -- Matthew 7:7-11, Jesus urges us to ask God and to trust him for things. Why can we do this? Because God's gifts to us just have to be better than the gifts we give to our children -- because his love is greater than ours. He also urges us -- commands us -- to be like God in generosity (do for others what you'd have them do for you, 7:12)

So now to the passage in question: 7:1-6. "Don't judge", Jesus says in verses 1-2, in a way that's parallel to 6:14-15 -- if you forgive, you'll be forgiven. So I take "judging" to mean "condemning." When we say someone can't be forgiven, when we refuse to forgive them, when we're saying they cannot ever change, that's rendering a judgment.
Ouch! I just poked myself.
Then Jesus says in verses 3-5 to recognize that we have our own faults, which may be greater than our brother's faults.

You can guess that I'm going to invoke an imaginary straight man here: "Wha...? Does that mean I have to pretend that nobody has any faults, that it's just me?" Jesus addresses that in verse 6, by pointing out that we have to discern whether somebody is ready to hear something precious or private, and treat it accordingly -- thus "pearls before swine" as the King James reads. I don't remember where I read this, but when a pig sees pearls, he might think they were something to eat. Upon discovering their true nature (at least as far as his porcine nature allows him to), he might turn upon you, the deceiver, in anger.

So we have to see, as the soulfood4u guy says, that when we share our heart with someone, they're the kind of person that won't abuse our trust. And the devotedservants.com folks point out that Jesus himself said in verse 5, "You hypocrite."

To summarize the "judge" vs "pigs" thing, then: "Don't judge" means "Don't decide someone can't ever change; don't consign them to hell"

And the "pigs" thing means "But do watch what you do and who you trust, based on your discernment of what they are like today."

1 comment:

Riemannzeta said...

Interesting interpretation.

I've always thought that pearl-pigs prohibition was an exhortation not to stand preaching on street corners.

Any form of communication requires one person who's willing to say truth and another person who's willing to hear truth.

The way I understand it, Jesus is telling us not to ram the truth down anybody's throat who isn't willing to hear it. But that of course doesn't mean we should give up on those people (i.e., "judge" them). We just need to go back to concepts that we can both agree on in order to keep the lines of communication flowing.

Along these lines, you might look a book called "Jokes" by philosopher Ted Cohen. He explains how jokes are a way for us to share very private information about ourselves with strangers.