Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 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 a 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.
Matthew 7:1-5
Though I have never been a Michael Jackson fan, his song “Man in the Mirror” popped into my head the other day. The refrain of the song goes like this:
I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways.
And no message could’ve been any clearer,
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself and then make a change.
We will resume our study on the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil on Monday. However, I feel compelled to reflect today on this song. There is a great need in this world for all of us to collective understand the necessity for personal repentance. It seems that more and more, people are demanding that those around them change, whether it is asking them to endorse something they are doing or not doing, or whether it is demanding something they feel entitled to.
The lyrics of “Man in the Mirror” reflect nicely the word of Jesus in Matthew 7. That change begins by looking at ourselves. Rather than asking those around us to change their ways, if we want to make the world a better place, then we have to start by looking in the mirror and changing our own ways.
Jesus warns against judging others. He says that how we judge others will be the same way that we will be judged. He cautions us to not focus on the speck in our brother’s eye when we have a log in our own eye.
Today’s verses from Matthew 7 are part of what is known as the “Sermon on the Mount”, a lengthy discourse recounted in Matthew 5-7, which Jesus gave to thousands of people who heard Him come and speak on a mountain. What He said was addressed to all people, both of that time, and of our time. Back then, Jesus knew that the simple people would be there. He also knew that those who oppressed the people would be present, or would certainly hear about it. This included both the Jewish temple leadership, which was corrupt and oppressive to the average Jewish person, not at all what one would expect the religious leadership of the any day to be like. And certainly Roman leadership would have been present, or would have heard about the sermon. A gathering of so many people potentially being galvanized by one person would certainly have gotten their attention.
What Jesus said was “revolutionary,” not in the sense of starting a revolt among the people, but in the sense that it defied the conventional way that people thought. Then, as now, people lived in a society that was judgmental of others. The idea of “shaming” others is not unique to our time. We have different means by which to judge and shame others—mass email, social media, pictures on our phones. Jesus warns against all of this, by teaching us not to judge others.
The prayer that will conclude today’s reflection is the Prayer of St. Ephraim, which is offered throughout the Lenten season. It’s three short stanzas pack a powerful punch. The first line talks about passions that we all struggle to tame—the tendency to be lazy and not to be good stewards of our lives; the temptation to meddle in the affairs of others; lust for power, and anything else really that we lust over; and idle talk, or gossip, which is probably the sin we commit the most. The second line asks God to replace these passions with prudence (or wisdom and discernment), humility, patience and love. It is interesting the order that the prayer uses for these things that tame the passions. Love is the greatest of virtues and is preceded by the others. In other words, we will have a difficult time expressing love if we lack wisdom, humility and patients. The final line of the prayer reminds us of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7, to see our own faults rather than just seeing the faults of others, and to resist the tendency to judge others.
This prayer is often accompanied by three great metanoias, which are a position of prayer where we get on our knees and then bow our heads to the ground. What happens physically when we do a metanoia is that we can’t see any person other than ourselves. It puts us in the position of looking only at the man in the mirror and it reminds us that we need to change our ways rather than judging the ways of others, and that change/repentance begins when we look at ourselves.
O Lord and Master of my life, do not permit the spirit of laziness and meddling, the lust for power and idle talk to come into me.
Instead, grant me, Your servant, the spirit of prudence, humility, patience and love.
Yes, Lord and King, give me power to see my own faults and not to judge my brother.
For You are blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.
If we want to make the world a better place, it starts with us looking at the person in the mirror, ourselves. (We will go back to reflecting on the Liturgy of St. Basil on Monday—Many things inspire my writing, and today it was a song.)