Wednesday, June 3, 2009

19. A CRITICAL EYE (MT 7:1-6)

"Today we must translate the words of Scripture into deeds, and instead of speaking saintly words, we must act them." 
- St Jerome

Matthew 7:1-5
‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; because the judgements you give are the judgements you will get, and the amount you measure out is the amount you will be given. Why do you observe the splinter in your brother's eye and never notice the plank in your own? How dare you say to your brother, Let me take the splinter out of your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own? Hypocrite! Take the plank out of your own eye first, and then you will see clearly enough to take the splinter out of your brother's eye. Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls in front of pigs, or they may trample them and then turn on you and tear you to pieces.'


Jesus rules his Kingdom through charity, through self-forgetful love. In profiling how his disciples ought to think of and treat one another, Jesus gives us a glimpse of his leadership style. Christ has nothing stuck in his eye. He sees clearly all the sins, faults, and offenses of his subjects. And yet, he doesn't condemn them. He constantly holds out his forgiveness, invites them to start fresh, helps them along the way, and hopes in their capacity for reform. He who could judge with perfect justice has mercifully delayed the judgment.

How self-contradicting we become when we rail against the delay! By condemning our brothers and sisters in thought and word, whether or not they deserve the condemnation, we despise the very mercy from which we have benefited so greatly. In thus separating ourselves from Christ's standard instead of seconding his patience, we end up exposing ourselves as well to the sharp sword of justice: God has no choice but to measure us with the measure we have used to judge others, because we have scorned the only other measure - his mercy.


Jesus seems to contradict himself. On the one hand, he commands his disciples not to judge others, while on the other hand, he commands them precisely to judge whether someone is worthy to be given the pearl of the gospel (in the early Church, this pearl, this "what is holy" was understood primarily as the sacrament of the Eucharist, which was - and still is - reserved to those who share completely the Catholic faith). The concept of discernment resolves the paradox: Christ is teaching his disciples to be men and women of reflection and discernment.

The Greek verb used for "judge" connotes "to judge harshly and condemn," not merely to form an opinion (how can we avoid forming opinions?). Therefore, Jesus is really warning his disciples against thinking and speaking badly of others. Since only God can see the heart, only God can pass sentence on someone's moral conduct. Certainly an objective action can be identified as good or bad, in accordance or not with the gospel and the natural law, but only God can see into the conscience of the culprit - we are blinded to this level of reality by the beam of ignorance and self-centeredness. Think of it this way: how easy it is for us to make excuses for our own faults and failings, yet how quickly we condemn the failings of others. Jesus is simply teaching us to be as generous in our thoughts and words about other people (family members, friends, superiors, strangers, celebrities, politicians, etc.) as we are with ourselves.

At the same time, Jesus calls for prudence. It is naïve to pretend that everyone is a saint (though it is true that everyone is called to be a saint). We are to avoid thoughtlessly exposing our lives, our faith, and the Church's patrimony to the destructive malice of the enemies of Christ. You pray for and work to reform a criminal, but you don't hire him as your babysitter. If we are to love the sinner yet hate the sin, we have to be honest about both.


Following Christ's standard of mercy, the standard by which he deals with us, involves forming the habit of reflection. Each of us has natural tendencies, some to be harsh and judgmental and others to be perhaps too trusting and unsuspecting. The mature Christian learns to balance these natural tendencies by taking time to reflect before speaking and acting, and by constantly examining his own conduct in the light of Christ's wisdom.

Jesus: How I long to give you my love and wisdom! Yet I can only do so if you are open to receive them. Strive to love as I love. The more your heart is open to your neighbors, the more my grace and love will be able to flow into your soul. Think well of others, excuse their faults, speak kindly and generously about them, and you will see your heart expand. Then I will be able to pour into your soul the light and truth that will set you free.


Lord, why is it so easy for me to fall into the trap of useless criticism? In some circumstances and relationships especially I am always seeing faults and failings, and condemning them as if I were the perfect one. Jesus, have mercy on me. Be more merciful with me than I am with my neighbors. Give me the strength to be humble, to judge as you judge, with the light of your love...

Thank you for your unquenchable mercy. You are merciful because you are all-loving and all-powerful. Mercy is the strength of your love. Lord, I believe in you! I believe in your love! I believe in the power of your love to enliven the deadest hearts, just as you have enlivened mine. I want to be a walking advertisement for your goodness and mercy. Speak to me, Lord, and speak through me...

Lord, when I take time to reflect on your words and your example, I feel my heart engaged. I want so much to follow your path! It is time for me to change, Lord. Teach me to turn these good desires you have given me into actions. Teach me to be an effective ambassador of your Kingdom...

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC


  1. Excellent! Thank you so much!

  2. Fr. John, a beautiful blog....As a person who struggles with being too judgmental, and with gossiping too much... your article greatly spoke to me and gave some great insights into how to work on that failing of mine...


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