I remember growing up and being taught in school the importance of ‘critical thinking.’ It’s a valuable skill to be able to look past the face-value of things and see what’s going on behind the veneer (of course, this can sometimes become a problem with interpersonal relationships where we’re supposed extend the benefit of the doubt – not everything is political or agenda driven). However, in practice (at least in school), it rarely accomplished the goals the instructors stated. Instead it degenerated to one of two things. First, critical thinking was only applauded if it resulted in an outcome consistent with what the instructor was looking for (usually), otherwise it was marginalized (not everyone feels that way …. really I thought that was the point of an argumentative essay, that’s just your opinion …. no matter how much documented research was provided from well-respected sources). Second, in practice, it usually simply became a fancy name for criticism – a skill I’ve mastered. I think the subtle difference between ‘critical thinking’ and ‘criticism’ is akin to the difference between ‘evaluating’ and ‘judging.’ Clearly the writers of Scripture envision the church (and individual Christians) judging situations at some level. Yet, at the beginning of ch 7, while not forbidden, ‘judging’ itself is certainly brought under the microscope.A quick contextual overview as we look at the thematic parallel (7:1-6 and 7:12-14) that stands with the thematic parallel we looked at last time (6:25-34 & 7:7-11).
- These passages are found toward the conclusion of a single ‘sermon’ (ch 5-7) in which Jesus is announcing and describing the Kingdom of Heaven. They are to be understood within the contexts of the whole, not as discrete elements.
- As such, there is an ongoing comparison between the Kingdom as Jesus is presenting and the popular assumptions of the kingdom as presented (and demonstrated) by the scribes and Pharisees. This remains the active paradigm throughout the sermon – whether explicitly stated or simply implied.
- The thematic parallel we looked at last time challenges the assumptions we make of God and His character. The charges not to worry, the encouragement to approach and engage God with the expectation of going to a loving father, etc. are made on the basis of a correction to the subtle (and not so subtle) lies that are believed about God. The corrections Jesus makes are not wholly ‘original’ to him, they can be found throughout our OT and among many of the Jewish writings and sayings prior to and concurrent with Jesus. Nevertheless, the accuser makes his living off this oft-repeated tactic.
- The thematic parallel we’ll look at today considers the flip side of the issue – it challenges the paradigm by which we look at others. At its most basic level, the section from 6:25-7:14 spells out the basic reality that loving God and loving others are really flip sides of the same coin that must be taken together or we end up like so many of the scribes and Pharisees – fulfilling lists in devotion to God while forgetting matters of compassion and mercy, which are inherently so difficult to quantify.
So, lets take a quick look at the details. It seems clear enough that once again we have a Wisdom Teaching approach to the matter, not a blanket statement. The command to not judge is followed by a caution concerning the standard we use to judge, which is followed by an example that ends with the ‘judger’ first dealing with himself AND THEN dealing with his brother. ‘Judging’ is in view the whole time and, with proper boundaries, clearly not forbidden. Jesus acknowledges the practice of most (not only the Pharisees) of using the ‘Law and Prophets’ as a standard to hold others up to rather than a mirror into which one sees oneself (of course I suppose one could hold a mirror up to another, but that is not the typical use of the tool).
We’ll come back to the hogs and hounds in a moment. For now, lets jump down to :12-14. Verse groupings will vary from version to version, but I think that vs 12 rightly fits in with the ‘Narrow Gate’ rather than previous section (ask, seek, knock). The ‘Golden Rule’ is the thematic complement (parallel) for how we ought to view other people in light of God’s word (as opposed to finger-pointing and list making). I do not think that Jesus’ statement about entering by the narrow gate is meant to connect with the Johannine passage (I am the gate…). I think in light of this sermon, Jesus’ reference to the gate (13,14) is linked to vs 12 and the ongoing contrast between the Kingdom as Jesus is presenting and the ‘kingdom’ as imagined by the scribes and Pharisees. The reference here to ‘Law and Prophets’ connects us back to the early moments of the sermon (5:17 and following). Jesus affirms the assumption of the scribes and Pharisees that the Scriptures form a reasonable starting point for one aspiring to the Kingdom of Heaven. However, in contrast to the religious leaders, we cannot take the Scriptures and reduce them to a wooden list of do’s and don’ts that allow us to easily determine if we (or someone else) is in or out (devout Pharisees in, Sadducees out – they conspire with Rome and others; Essenes in, everyone else out – including Pharisees who were ‘lovers of smooth things’). Instead, use the Scriptures to measure the condition of our own hearts by looking at how we treat those who are meant to be God’s image bearers. Look to the matters of compassion and mercy which are evidence that one’s heart has been changed by the Spirit – the surest Scriptural evidence that the Kingdom has begun (or at least that one is ‘in’). Of course, this is a much harder road than simply following the list (which, as we have addressed in previous posts, would have to be MUCH more strict if that were the way ) – thus the charge that Jesus leaves us with.
Now, back to our famous passage on hounds and the holy, pigs and pearls. I’ll try to keep this brief and engage further in the comments as you like. First off, dogs and pigs do not refer to general classes of ‘unbelievers’ as so many claim. I will simply state directly that there is NO WAY that this is what Jesus is referring to in the context of this sermon. Given the ongoing comparison Jesus is making between His declaration of the Kingdom and the assumptions presented by the religious leaders of the day and assumptions of those to whom this sermon is presented – the dogs and pigs (both unclean animals) are the scribes and Pharisees – people many would have assumed to be ‘in.’ (for those interested, ask me in the comments and I’ll go into why they are on the outside – hint – see my earlier post on John the Baptist). The pearls? Well, that’s the Scriptures (from which ‘the lists’ of do’s and don’ts are taken). The pigs, concerned only with their stomachs, are unable to ingest the pearls. Unable to discern their true value, they simply trample them. Dogs were forbidden from consuming the holy, the offering given to God (these were wild pack animals, not domesticated pets). So, what is the ‘holy’ thing in view here? At the risk of needing to dodge some stones, I don’t think Jesus is referring to himself here. No, given the context, the holy is the thing being judged – people.
So, with respect to hounds and the holy, pigs and pearls what is Jesus saying? Don’t entrust the Scriptures (designed to point us toward God, the one who gives life and Spirit) or people (designed to stand in the place of God Himself, animated by His Spirit) to the likes of the scribes and Pharisees – they are not representatives of the Kingdom of Heaven. To do so will only leave the Scriptures trampled and people torn to shreds. Is there any wonder both Paul and Jesus are so adamant in their rejection of legalism and the ways of the spiritual technocrat?
– Pastor Jim Kushner