Sermon on the Mount 15

Judge Not 7:1-6

Jesus cites another Talmudic teaching. Matthew uses a neutral Greek word for “judge” (krino) — it’s meaning is entirely contextual. Thus, Jesus puts that teaching into a clear context regarding the hypocrisy so common to Scribes and Pharisees, the ones also most likely to quote the Talmudic lore in public. The context Jesus offers is in the sense of minding your own business, something Scribes and Pharisees found difficult.

The turn of phrase is first a stark kernel of truth, followed by a parallel statement in expanded terms. It’s that second parallel statement that tells His audience where He is going with this. Don’t try to inflate your social position by talking down to others. Later in the New Testament, this is stated in terms of going to your brother first in private, because your intention is to seek his welfare, too. You may not know the whole story, so assume the best of your brothers and sisters until you have a compelling reason to start putting up barriers. If they refuse to repent, then maybe you can go public with great care and humility.

Furthermore, there’s too good a chance your brother has been minding his own business about your flaws. If you establish the pattern of building up each other’s lives, it would make for a far stronger fellowship and shalom. Jesus is more blunt in warning that it’s downright stupid to castigate someone in public for a small mistake, because those listening are going to wonder if the only reason you know so much about this problem is because you have it even worse. Even if it’s not true, your attempt to build your reputation will have the reverse effect. We all know that people tend to project their own failings onto others, and it’s most likely the cause for pious public warnings.

If you deal with your sins and obtain God’s mercy, you’ll find yourself far better prepared to help someone else with that same weakness. And if you are humble and penitent enough to get right with God, you won’t be seeking that inflated reputation in the first place.

Granted, the Scribes and Pharisees often performed such public upbraiding under the pretense of sharing “a Word from the Lord” that the poor perpetrator needed to hear from the rabbi’s treasury of deep wisdom. So Jesus quotes yet another Talmudic teaching about holy things tossed to dogs. The context is rather involved on this one, as the meaning is quite specific. Let’s say you designate a particular animal as an offering for the Temple Altar. But something happens before to degrade the offering before it can be surrendered to the priests. It remains holy and cannot be bought back and used for secular purposes. You are stuck with it; you can’t even turn it loose, lest it become the prey of the wild dogs that roamed that part of the world. You have to assume that God had some reason for putting that burden on you. Thus, the ancient rule was worded, “You cannot give offerings to dogs.” It extended to other, metaphorical meanings, as well.

The business of not throwing pearls before pigs was a more jarring image, but still a parallel statement, and one that had seen other uses. Very early in Roman rule, a strong resentment rose among the purists and patriots who didn’t have the guts to actually engage in violence against Rome’s occupation army. These chickenhawks would warn others against explaining the Talmud in ways that these Gentiles could understand. So they used these kinds of phrases about holy stuff and dogs, or jewelry and pigs, to remind each other to keep the Talmudic teachings secret. So secret, in fact, they were seldom shared with common Jewish peasants, for whom rabbis and priests often barely disguised their contempt.

Jesus turns these parables on their heads. He says it in a way that mocks these arrogant chickenhawks. He is warning His despised Jewish peasant audience not to let the rabbis understand the true message of God’s Word, because they are unworthy to hear it. Don’t bother going to them privately with the intent of helping them to understand how their public preening was having the opposite effect of making them look like dogs and pigs. Don’t attempt to lead them to repentance. Just mind your own business and let them be found unworthy when the Messiah comes.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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