Pearls Before Swine

A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Feb 27, 2011

Matthew 7:1-12

Judge not that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is 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 neighbor’s eye.
“Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.
Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!  “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

This morning we’re continuing with Matthew’s account of the Sermon on the Mount. We’ve already heard plenty of Jesus’ challenging instructions in the past weeks. Sometimes Jesus’ words are too challenging.

Yet we continue to turn to the somewhat baffling words of the Sermon on the Mount. We come and sit on the hillside, joining the crowd, hoping for a glimpse of Jesus, hoping to hear something other than what we hear on the TV, hoping to hear something that will give us Hope. The kingdom Jesus talks about is very different than the society in which we live, by which we are surrounded, and ultimately, in which we feel unsuccessful.

I don’t know about you, but I hear this section of the Sermon and think, “really, Jesus? Are you sure you really mean this? We can’t judge?”

Because, let’s face it, we’re so good at it.

Maybe I shouldn’t speak for you, but I am a world class judger. I have opinions about all sorts of things. And, I confess, I am usually more than willing to share my opinions.

When I look around at the world, it seems clear that judging is one thing we’ve got down. If you have heard any of our political discourse in the last few years, you know what I’m talking about.

Judgment enough to go around.

Yes, sadly, we are good at passing judgment.

To be clear, Jesus isn’t telling us not to judge at all. The church is called to pass judgment on many things we see. We are called to speak loudly for the voiceless, and to advocate for the poor, for children, for those whom God loves and whom society seems to overlook.

And so we gather on the hillside and we hear Jesus’ words.

Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is 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 neighbor’s eye.”

The good news is that there is room in here for us to judge! (yay!).

The less good news is that we have to consider our own behavior first.

And I don’t know about you, but it is much more fun to be critical of other people than to hold a lens too close to our own actions.

But if we only practice the judging that we see around us on the news, we get self righteous posturing. We get mean spirited nastiness. We don’t see relationships redeemed and restored, but only see the walls come up, dividing us from each other. The logs in our own eyes—even   though we’ve learned to function with them in place—get in the way of our ability to see each other as God’s beloved children.

And they also, quite frankly, make us look absurd. The image of us criticizing others while walking around with  2×4’s obstructing our own vision puts in stark relief the benefits of Jesus’ instructions. Wouldn’t all of our relationships be better if we had the benefit of some self reflection and log removal?

Once we’ve considered our own behavior, pulled the log out of own eye, only then can we respond to the small splinter that is bothering our neighbor. And instead of poking them in the eye, or adding further splinters, we can instead reach out, remove what is causing them pain, and offer them compassion.

As we move through the Sermon on the Mount, it is helpful for me to remember the beginning of the sermon. “Blessed are you when…”

The entire sermon is calling us to better, more authentic relationships that bring blessing. This passage today also makes it pretty clear that it is blessing we offer when we reflect on our own lives, when we respond to others in compassion and love.
What might it look like for us to share the blessing that comes with removing the logs from our own eyes?

I’ve been considering this text for a number of weeks now, and I have to say that it has been working on my soul. In my interactions with people who seem to only offer conflict, I have forced myself to look for my own 2×4 before I’ve reacted to them and their *obvious* need of my judgment.  I don’t know if it has changed them, but I do feel it changing me. I invite you to notice the log in your own eye this week. To bring a deeper level of self awareness to your interactions and see what happens.

I think this text has implications for our corporate behavior as the church too. How is the church living out its call to remove the log from our collective eye, so that we can offer compassion?

I have a video for us to watch now about a woman who has been seeking to remove the log from the churches eye.

The act of offering an apology, rather than judgment, or even in place of supposedly helpful suggestions, has spread love and grace wherever Ms. Baldock has worn her shirt. By removing the collective log out of the church’s eye on this issue, she’s been able to offer a comforting hand of love and grace, wiping away tears of pain, loss, and sadness.

How do we, corporately, apply the instructions of this text to your work in the community and the world? How are we in collective service, seeking peacemaking and reconciliation?

In one sense, the very act of service is an attempt to deal with the logs in our own eyes, but I invite you to take that deeper. Have we really removed our own logs before we head out to help someone with their splinter? How can this lesson from Jesus challenge and push us deeper, into more compassionate relationship?

As soon as Jesus finishes the illustration about splinters and 2x4s, he offers a cryptic sentence.

Do not give what is holy to dogs; and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under foot and turn and maul you.

It feels very abrupt and, at first, disconnected from the rest of the text. But I wonder if it is a reminder that we are not supposed to base our behavior on the response we receive. In other words, the removal of the logs from our eyes and the compassionate gesture we offer to others might not be appreciated.  They might respond as snarling dogs or trampling swine.

They might not want help removing either their splinters or their own 2x4s. Our acts of compassion might not be met with compassion in return.

So what do we do then?

I don’t think Jesus is telling us not to offer the compassion. I think we are still to act as commanded. But I don’t think we are to let them determine how we measure our success. We still give what is holy. We still cast our pearls out to a world in need of compassion and beauty. But maybe we shouldn’t step into the middle of the muck and filth. There are, no doubt, some people who don’t want to meet us outside of the proverbial pig pen. But the Good News is that the outcome of it all is not our responsibility. Whether we fail or succeed is not the issue. The issue is how we treat each other.

Marilynne Robinson’s book, “Gilead”, is one of my favorites. It is narrated by the Reverend John Ames, who is dying. He became a father late in life, and knows he won’t be around to see his son grow up. So the book is the journal he leaves his 7 year old son. I thought of this passage from the book when I was considering casting our pearls before swine. Here’s what he says.

This is an important thing, which I have told many people, and which my father told me, and which his father told him. When you encounter another person, when you have dealings with anyone at all, it is as if a question is being put to you.  So you must think, “what is the Lord asking of me in this moment, in this situation?” If you confront insult or antagonism, your first impulse will be to respond in kind. But if you think, as it were, this is an emissary sent from the Lord, and some benefit is intended for me—first of all the occasion to demonstrate my faithfulness, the chance to show that I do, in some small degree, participate in the grace that saved me—you are free to act otherwise than as circumstances would seem to dictate. You are free to act by your own lights. You are freed at the same time of the impulse to hate or resent that person. He would probably laugh at the thought that the Lord sent him to you for your benefit (and his), but that is the perfection of the disguise—his own ignorance of it.
(Gilead, page 124)

Participating in the grace that saved me.

So, yes, we still offer what is Holy.

We still cast our pearls out in the world by seeing the people we meet on the journey as emissaries from God, with gifts for us. If we can do that, it just might keep us out of the dog pound, away from the pig pen.

Whether or not the others leave the muck of judgment is not our concern. We can leave that to God.

Jesus goes on to say:
“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened”.

So, as we go out into the world, encountering those emissaries sent to us by the Lord, we ask. We search. We knock. We participate in the grace that has saved us and seek our own transformation.
Amen.

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