Matthew 7:1-6 – Judging Others

And my true story about being gored by a boar.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Fun side-story: I actually have been torn to pieces by pigs. At least, one pig took one piece of me.  One afternoon last summer I went out to do afternoon chores and saw that a sow had dropped piglets sooner than expected, so they were in with all the other pigs sans even a nest, which isn’t ideal.  I could see one piglet wedged up beside the feed trough and thought it might be dead, and wanted to get eyes on the other piglets.  I kept a wide berth because I knew the sow would be protective.  What I didn’t count on was the dad being protective, even from my far-away stance.  He gave me a warning gouge in the thigh.  I let all the pigs know who was boss with some wild kicks and a lot of screaming (side side-story: I’ve won two other intimidation contests with boars; I don’t recommend it, you have to be ready-to-murder-with-your-bare-hands angry), and then drove myself to urgent care where I got my giant puncture wound and trailing gash cleaned and stitched up.  Oh, the stupid piglet was totally fine, by the way.

I definitely tell this story to interns to boost my own bad-ass factor, as well as drive home how dangerous the pigs can be.  But you know what this story really is?  A series of stupid mistakes on my part.  Stupid mistake number one: I know what keyed up pigs sounds like, and should have been paying more attention to the others, not just the sow.  Stupid mistake number two:  a few extra buckets of feed dumped on the ground well away from the piglet might have allowed me a better (safer) look at it.  Stupidest mistake of all: trying to check on the piglet from inside the fence in the first place.  That definitely should have been an evaluate-and-strategize-from-the-outside sort of job.

This whole judging others bit of the Sermon on the Mount is an invitation from Jesus to check our egos and our stupid.  You do not throw your pearls to pigs, because they will trample them and they will turn on you.  You also don’t get into a pissing contest with a skunk (a saying a first heard from my mother-in-law and absolutely adore).  These metaphors are telling us to save our wisdom for those ready to hear it, and to recognize that we don’t have all the answers, or even all the facts to make the answers.  I cannot tell you how many times I have gone off half-cocked, biting Chris’ head off for something I think he did. Just the other night I bitched at him for losing his temper with Betty over a little spilled milk while I was out of the room for less than a minute.  Turns out, it wasn’t just an accident, she was being a little snot, pouring it on her dinner, and then throwing the sippy cup when Chris transferred said milk into a less pour-able container.  We got in a huge fight, and I had to sheepishly apologize when I heard what had actually happened.  I feel like these sort of slap-down reminders from God happen to me a lot when I act out of anger instead of taking the time to consider everything that might be going on.

The best piece of advice when it comes to not judging others, or reserving your wisdom for the right time, may come from The Big Lebowski.  “New shit has come to light, man,” the Dude says, about a supposedly simple situation that just became a lot more complex.  We need to make sure we understand the whole situation before we start preaching.  In other words, don’t be like me: a maker of stupid mistakes and quick judgments that often leave me back-pedaling and apologizing, cleaning up messes both emotional and physical, and feeling pretty idiotic and petty. Be like the Dude: check your ego, check your stupid, and let all that shit come to light before you act on anything.  Who knew the Dude would end up being a spiritual role model?  God really does work in mysterious ways.

Matthew 6:19-34 and 7:7-12 – Money and Worry

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. 23 But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

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“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! 12 So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

This is a rather wonky way to break things up, but I think it is best to discuss these verses altogether, as it all boils down to worrying about what money can buy.  Everything I’ve read on these passages assumes a rather privileged position of already having that money.  I’ll admit, the first question that came to my mind was, “Is saving for retirement Christian?” What about those who aren’t able to save for anything, let alone retirement?  Those living paycheck to paycheck?  The very idea of Godly saving is kind of a moot point.  We’ll get to that.

Let’s start with the easy one.  Let’s assume that yes, you do have the money.  I know, I know, we could all use more money, but hey, if you’re able to save at all for retirement, or your kids’ college, or really for anything, that means your basic needs are being met, and you have the privilege and responsibility to wonder, “If I’m saving up my earthly treasures to buy more earthly treasures, doesn’t this mean I’m serving Money and not God?”

The answer comes down to attitudes. As discussed previously, God knows our secret hearts. The question is, do we?  I don’t think saving is inherently un-Christian.  In fact, there are other places in the Bible that praise a wise man’s stores, such as Proverbs 21:20: “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”  Let’s look closer at the example of retirement, since that’s (supposed to be) our largest savings goal.  First, I see saving for retirement as an act of love towards my children: I do not want to be a financial burden unto them in my old age.  Second, I don’t plan on just kicking back on a beach and frittering the last thirty years of my life away.  Of course I want some rest, but I’m the kind of person that cannot be happy without a project.  What that project might be, I don’t know, but as retirement draws near, I’ll be looking for that thing that gives me purpose, that keeps me young.  Perhaps it will be as “small” as just being there for my family.  Perhaps it will be something “larger,” like becoming a CASA volunteer.  Whatever it is, having some money in the bank will allow me to take on a project that may be one the world needs, but not one that could pay me a living wage.  Do you want to do nothing other than drink beer and sit on a lounge chair in your retirement?  I’ll be honest, God didn’t make you for that, and the proof is in the pudding: retirees who give up “doing stuff,” if you will, lose their health, and, quite frankly, die faster.  This article sums up the myriad of studies that prove seniors with a sense of purpose live longer.  However, if you want the freedom to pursue a passion and continue making a positive impact on the world in your retirement, then no, saving for retirement is not turning away from serving God.

Now, let’s get to the real worrying.  Again, in the grand scheme of things, I’m guessing most of you, dear readers, have your basic needs being met.  Maybe not as comfortably as you might want, but they are being met.  That being said, who hasn’t worried, in a very tangible way, about having enough money?  I recognize my privilege in that.  Yes, we have debt I’d like to clear up, and I can’t make large – or really even medium – purchases without planning for them, but I can go through the grocery checkout without worrying if I need to put some things back.  You know how many people can’t do that?  But even from this place of relative privilege, I know viscerally what it feels like to not have enough.  Just this year, with the government shutdown in January, Chris and I were in very real danger of having to deplete our savings, max out our credit cards, and possibly shut down the farm.  It didn’t come to that, but we had some stark conversations about what no contract work (on which we still rely) would look like.  As it was, our finances still took a hit.  (Mom, if you’re reading this, don’t worry, we’re fine!) Our debt went up instead of down, and we had to skip a rent payment.

In trying times it is easy to forget to pray, but this is just when we need to pray the most.  And I believe God will come through for us – I have to.  It may not be as soon (or as much) as we would like, but Xe will.  We are Xyr children, and Xe wants to see us thrive.  This small slice of the Bible contains many of my favorite verses.  High on the list is this one:

“Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?  If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

God wants to provide for us, but even Jesus says we need to ask.  Let’s make a parenting analogy!  I have the capacity to get my kids just about anything they want for snack.  They probably want ice cream sandwiches and gingerale.  What I’m going to give them is pita and hummus and apple juice.  And I’m going to make them say “please, Mommy” when they ask me for more.  God has the capacity to provide us with anything, but Xe’s going to provide us with what we need.  Rest assured, even if it’s not exactly what you thought you were going to to get, Xe wants to see our needs met.

Also, not worrying does not mean we can just sit back and wait for the free blessings to rain down upon us.  “Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus tells us.  “They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  True, but they also spend their whole day in search of seed.  The birds are working, but in an in-the-moment sort of way.  One of my other favorite passages (one I need to remind myself of often) is this one:

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Jesus isn’t telling us to not worry at all, but just to not worry needlessly.  Perhaps this whole passage could be summed up as: Do what work is in your power, pray for God to fill in the rest, and all will be well.  Simple to say, hard to do, but I have to believe it’s true.  Let’s look at my own personal example again, of how the government shutdown effected us.  Our debt went up, but now the farm is doing better than ever before, and we are slowly working it back down.  My side hustles look like they might start making some money in the not-too-distant future, too, something I never would have expected in January, so relief is on the horizon.  As for skipping a rent payment, we are fortunate enough to live in a house owned by my very generous father in law, and he made it clear to us that he did not expect rent that month.  Now, is any of this how I would have chosen to be provided for?  No, I would have had that money and then some in the bank so I could pay down the debt right then and not have to worry about relying upon the generosity of family, but that is how God chose to provide for me.  Who knows, maybe Xe did it exactly so I could write this blog post – to testify how I know what it’s like to have to pick which bills to pay, to worry about the money running out, to have to humble myself and ask for help from family.  And how even from that low point,  I was able to trust that God would provide for me, and that you can, too.

I can hear the doubters now: “So what about all the untold millions who have died throughout history waiting for God’s mercy, for God’s provision? Did they not pray hard enough? Did God not love them?” To be honest I don’t have a good answer, and it troubles me, deeply.  The only thing I can say to that is I believe this life is only temporary, and perhaps God provided for those mentioned in ways that we cannot see or comprehend – maybe even beyond the bounds of this life and this world.  This in no way excuses the evils that mankind can visit upon each other, or grants us immunity from trying to rectify those evils, but I must believe that there is something greater at work, and that those who have suffered have not suffered in vain, but are now with God, who wipes every tear away.

My closing plea is this: Just try it.  Try turning to God with your needs.  What can it possibly hurt?  I’m not asking you to stop working, saving, paying off your debt, or even to stop wanting the things you want. Really the only thing I’m asking you is to stop worrying, and that’s behavior that even non-religious people would agree is detrimental to one’s mental and even physical health.  I know it’s hard, and the results may not be exactly what you’d thought, but try praying for what you want, what you need.  Do it with an open heart, and with patience.  Seek God first, and the rest will fall into place.

Matthew 6:1-18 – Secret Hearts

Having a private relationship with God means we have one that is more real.

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
    on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
    as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
    but deliver us from the evil one.’

14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

We’re going to pick up the pace (a little) for the rest of the Sermon on the Mount, as some broader thematic topics are being addressed now.  In study Bibles, the passage above is often broken into three headings: “Giving to the Needy,” “Prayer,” and “Fasting.” And those are good headings, but I want to focus on the broader message here, which is how God knows our secret hearts.

Having a private relationship with God means that we have one that is more real.  If the Pharisees were around today, they might be part some of the worst of the Selfie generation:  posing outside the synagogue with ashes on their head, or a shot of them ladling something onto a plate at the soup kitchen from an up-high angle while the people in the background are serving people three times as fast.  In modern terms, they’re just there for the photo op.  Any accolades they receive are their just reward, and nothing deeper is going to come from it.

This doesn’t mean we can’t share about our Faith, it just means don’t be an ass about it.  If you’re just out there virtue signalling, you have some spiritual growing up to do.  The “likes and comments” test, if you will, is actually a pretty good one.  Are you just doing this for the attention, to belittle someone, or make yourself look better? Then keep it to yourself.  Are you doing this because you genuinely want to share something you think might make a difference?  Are you raising awareness for a worthy cause? Do you want to share your joy over God’s creation?  Go for it.

God knows our intentions, and if our intentions are good, then our actions will be also.  This is why it is so important to keep coming back to love.  Are our actions coming from a place of love?  It sounds so simple, but it’s really very divisive.  In fact, I think this may be my biggest beef with much of Conservative Christianity.  They say that their beliefs, their actions, come from a love of Jesus, and a want to uphold his teachings.  But Jesus taught us, above all, to love our neighbors, love our enemies. So if we love Jesus, then we should be focused on that, right?  And loving someone does not included forced conversion therapy, denying services to someone who isn’t the right religion or sexual orientation, or a paranoid guarding of this country’s borders.  Loving means making sure everyone has enough to eat, and a safe place to live, access to care, the ability to work and to love and to build a family unmolested, regardless of how different they are from us.  Actions creating that kind of world speak to loving intentions.  If we build our walls, deny our brothers and sisters their rights because they are “other,” we will get accolades from like-minded (small-minded) people.  And that is all that we’ll deserve.  But, if we help lift up everyone, even if it means working quietly and in small ways that only God may see, then we will be rewarded by God.