Sermon on the Mount (III)

The spiritual evening in February concluded the presentation about the Sermon on the Mount, focusing on the final three works of the law (norms) that the Lord utters. Moreover, it tried to clarify how the Lord’s teaching, “Take My yoke upon you, for My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” can be understood and, more importantly, applied in our life.

The fourth norm is: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2). Elsewhere, the Lord entreats us: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment” (John 7:24). Therefore, this word of our Lord is an injunction not against assessing or discerning, but rather against condemning our neighbor, as Saint Paul says: “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).

Saint Porphyrios of Kafsokalyvia explains the intimate resort that leads us to judging: “It is a kind of self-projection of our own when we insist on other people becoming good. In reality, we wish to become good, but because we are unable to, we demand it of others and insist on this. And whereas all things are corrected through prayer, we often are distressed or become outraged and pass judgment on others.” Most of the time, when we try to put our life in order, we confront our weaknesses, and we tend to project onto others the frustration that we acquire as a result of this encounter, thus resulting in us judging them. The saints are the only ones who can look upon evil without judging it, the only ones who can receive it with a mother’s heart, like Elder Cleopa urges us to do: “Have a son’s heart toward God, a judge’s heart toward yourself, and a mother’s heart toward your neighbor.”

This ‘norm’ is strengthened expressively using the example of the speck and the plank (cf. Matthew 7:3-5). We understand that the ‘speck’ is any sin our neighbor commits, while the ‘plank’ is all my sinful state, all my exalted self-opinion, concentrated in the ego (and thus hard to observe). It is as Elder Zacharias Zacharou says: “Whenever we do not succeed in offering glory and gratitude to God, we distance ourselves one from another and we are not able to have brotherly love towards our neighbors. We see them as strangers, as a threat, and we judge them.” In other words, the ‘plank’ consists precisely of the fact that we do not see our own mistake and thus we end up perceiving the other as a stranger. Yet Elder Zacharias also gives us a solution: “If we live in repentance, we will find the ‘tender mercies’ (Colossians 3:12), our heart will be enlarged and we will perceive our brethren with mercy, desiring all good things for them, we will love them and we will bear them in our heart.”

The fifth of our Lord’s guidelines is: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6). Father Nicolae Steinhardt draws our attention to discernment: “Kindness and magnanimity need not be confused with blindness, stupidness and naïveté. As Leon Daudet said, naïveté is good and nice in infants, in children, in youth. For mature and elderly people, it befits them to be intelligent, wise, prudent, guided by that which our age-old church texts call exceedingly pertinent: watchfulness. Never should kindness and magnanimity be transformed into that pathetic and absurd weakness by which others are permitted to trample underfoot holy things and pearls.” It behooves us to be wise as the serpent, as Blessed Theophylact of Bulgaria explains: “Just as the serpent allows its body to be wounded, but it preserves its head, likewise the Christian can give all his other belongings to murderers, even his body, yet he ought especially to preserve his head, which is Christ and faith in Him.”

The sixth ‘norm’ presented by our Lord is: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). This norm encourages us to pray for our needs, namely: discernment, repentance, strength, wisdom to fulfill the commandments, grace. He encourages us thus because He knows that His teachings are impossible to fulfill, but if we approach Him with trust and perseverance, we will succeed.

Everything our Lord said, including His commandments and His Gospel, represent “His yoke”. This “yoke” is activated in our life through any interpersonal contact. If we manage not to become frustrated or indignant, but rather we sigh deeply under our heavy cross and ask His help, then we find grace, doors open, and our heart gets enlarged. Therefore, the key is not to allow ourselves to get frustrated or wounded, because we cannot abide with Him in such a state. We need to humble ourselves, calling upon Him in prayer, and He will descend to us and help us.