the Sermon on the Mount – anything but tribalism reborn

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged.”

They’re possibly the most famous of Jesus’ word. Surpassed only by the so-called Golden Rule: “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets”.

Together they frame the section of the Sermon on the Mount I want to reflect on today — Matthew 7.1-12 — the message of which, I’m convinced, is best summed up as Christianity – it’s anything but tribalism reborn!

This may not seem immediately obvious — particularly when we take a glance at Christian communities across the world and throughout time.

Very often, Christian groups seem to nurture the most toxic practices and mentalities associated with tribalism: narrow and partisan self-interest, groupthink, a defensive stance (or an imperalistic one — depending on how much of a cultural foothold they have) that results in exclusion and condemnation.

In the face of this, many people reject Christianity, craving instead something more inclusive, broader and less partisan.

And I can sympathise — some of my worst experiences of exclusion have been perpetrated by Christian groups (although that usually wasn’t their intention).

But for Jesus, not judging — or, rather, judging with the ‘measure’ of grace and charity rather than that of strict justice (verse 2) — and avoiding a hypocritical attitude of moral superiority (verses 3-5), somehow sits alongside the need to discern (ie. to judge):

“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” (verse 6)

Clearly, Jesus doesn’t want his followers to jump out of the frying pan of exclusionary and condemning judgementalism into the fire of indiscriminate inclusion and embrace.

Some things are too precious to hand over to some people. Judgement has a place.

To cut a long story short, the answer to the corrosive excesses of tribalism isn’t banning tribes and doing away with boundaries altogether. Rather, it’s finding ways to be a group with a joyful sense of belonging and unity in what we hold in common, yet without anxiously policing our boundaries.

How do we do that?

According to Jesus, it starts with recognising that our ‘tribe’ or group isn’t discrete and clearly defined — a self-sufficient little island in the sea of humanity.

To put it provocatively, genuine Christian community is incoherent.

It’s not explicable purely on its own terms. Instead, its coherence and very existence as a group depends entirely on the one Jesus urges us to actively entrust ourselves to — our loving Father in heaven (verses 7-11).

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