We understand the Sermon on the Mount, which the daily gospels currently feature, as a collection of Jesus’ teachings arranged in a block by the writer of the gospel of Matthew. Already in this teaching discourse, we have already encountered the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) and the Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6: 9-13), both of which have a focus on mercy (Matthew 5:7, Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy and Matthew 6:12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.). Both instances are presented positively, but today’s gospel is presented as what not to do. Jesus humorously illustrates his point with the comparison of a speck in your brother’s eye to a log in your own.
What does Jesus mean by judging others? Christians understand right judgement as a gift of the Holy Spirit, and we are encouraged to use the skills of discernment when making decisions. It is not having wisdom that is being questioned here, but the passing of judgement on people. We can be very skilled at justifying our own actions but quick to condemn others for theirs. When we can look honestly at our own actions and realise our own fallibility, we can be merciful with others.
Pope Francis caused a media storm early in his papacy when asked about gay priests and replying, “Who am I to judge?” Commentary ranged from there being a problem with translation or him being caught of guard and not meaning what he said. However, he has used the same response in other situations since. It’s obviously something he has meditated on. If we are open to the mercy of God for ourselves, we have to be open to the mercy of God for everyone. It is not our place to judge others, we would be acting on appearances and being hypocrites. Judgement needs to be left to God. A God of mercy and love.
Alison Gore is a parishioner at St Paul of the Cross, Glen Osmond. She works in education and formation.