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In this passage from John’s gospel, Jesus was practicing what He preached in Matthew’s gospel. “Do not judge others, or you will be judged.”
I shudder when I read that because it is so easy to do exactly what Jesus said we should not do.
Let’s face it, judging others is a natural human trait. At one time, making quick judgments made the difference between life and death. Today our social media craze exacerbates the problem as we are encouraged to add our comments, our judgments to every story that appears. Our society is becoming a society of judges.
I try my hardest not to make assumptions about others, I really do, but sometimes despite my best efforts, I will find myself exploring feelings of negativity towards someone else. Is there anyone here who has not been guilty of making some gross misjudgment toward another person? Is there anyone here who has not suffered from someone else’s misjudgment?
There are several reasons we should not judge others; that is: make fun of others, criticize others, talk about them behind their backs, turn our backs on them, or in any other way think we are superior to them.
First, although first impressions are sometimes true, things are not always as they at first appear.
Researchers out of Princeton University have found that people make judgments about such things as trustworthiness, competence, and likeability within a fraction of a second after seeing someone’s face. The researchers caution, “The link between facial features and character may be tenuous at best, but that doesn’t stop our minds from sizing other people up at a glance.”
It is true sometimes we are accurate at making a judgment about other people based upon first impressions. However; this limited ability becomes a problem when we begin to believe our first impressions are always right.
Not long ago, an elderly woman in California went to a grocery store. When she returned to her car, she noticed four men getting into it. The woman let go of her shopping cart, reached into her purse and pulled out a small handgun she keeps for just such occasions. She walked to the front of her car, aimed the pistol and started screaming at the top of her lungs for those guys to get out of her car. They didn’t hesitate, they threw the doors open scrambled out as fast as they could and took off running across the parking lot. She put her gun back in her purse, put her groceries in the back seat and got into the driver’s seat intending to drive to the police station. There was only one problem; her key wouldn’t fit in the ignition. A quick glance around the interior confirmed she was in the wrong car. Her car was parked three spaces down in the same row. So she loaded her groceries into her car and drove to the police station to report what she had done. When she told the sergeant what she had done, he couldn’t contain his laughter as he pointed to the other end of the counter where four very shaken preachers who had just finished having lunch together were reporting a car-jacking by a mad elderly woman. The woman apologized profusely and the clergymen declined to press charges.
Have you ever jumped to conclusions about someone and then judged them in some way only to discover later that you were badly mistaken? Like the woman in that parking lot, do any of us have a tendency to jump to conclusions and assume the worst about other people?
Jesus taught that if we avoid judging others by not jumping to conclusions we won’t have to worry about being embarrassed or having to apologize later. Which leads to the next point.
We never know all the facts about either a situation or the person.
Some years back there was a lady in a faded gingham dress and her husband dressed in a homespun threadbare suit who showed up without an appointment at the office of the President of Harvard University. The secretary could tell in a moment that these country-bumpkins had no business at the most prestigious school in the US and when the man asked to see the President, she insisted that he’d be busy all day long. “We’ll wait as long as it takes,” the woman kindly replied.
For four hours, the secretary ignored them without even letting the President know this couple was waiting. Finally, she informed the President and told him that if he saw them for a couple of minutes hopefully, they would go away. The President strutted over to the couple without inviting them into his office. The lady began by saying, “We had a son who attended Harvard for one year. He loved it here, but a year ago was killed in an accident and we are here to let you know we’d like to build a memorial to him.
The President wasn’t touched, he was shocked; “Madam,” he said gruffly, “We can’t put up a statue for every person who attended Harvard and died; if we did this place would look like a cemetery.”
“Oh no,” the lady explained, “We don’t want to build a statue, we’d like to give a building to Harvard.”
The President rolled his eyes and exclaimed, “A building! Do you have any idea what a building costs? Why we have 10 million dollars worth of buildings here.”
For a moment the couple remained silent. The President was pleased with himself, maybe now they would leave. The lady turned to her husband and said quietly, “Dear, is that all it costs to start a university? Why don’t we just start our own?” Her husband nodded and they turned to leave. And the President of Harvard was mortified to later learn that he watched Mr. and Mrs. Leland Stanford leave his campus. And that after their encounter, they traveled to Palo Alto, California to establish the University that still bears their name.
What’s that old saying that applies here? Don’t judge a book by its cover.
Third, because Jesus warned us the way we judge will come back to haunt us.
Sometimes as individuals:
Sarah, the church gossip and self-appointed guardian of the church’s morals kept sticking her nose in other peoples’ business. Although most didn’t appreciate her judgmental ways, they feared her enough not to say anything. After seeing George’s pickup parked at a local bar on a Saturday afternoon she came to church Sunday morning and began to suggest to whoever would listen that George was most likely an alcoholic. When she cattily mentioned to George that she saw his truck at the bar he didn’t deny it or try to explain; he didn’t say a word. But later Sunday evening, he parked his truck in front of Sarah’s house and left it there all night.
Sometimes when we judge or condemn others, we end up judging or condemning ourselves.
And sometimes when we judge others, our judgment can have a negative impact on the Kingdom of God; more specifically on the church.
Mahatma Gandhi was the leader of the Indian nationalist movement against British rule and considered by many to be the father of his country. He was internationally esteemed for his doctrine of non-violence to achieve political and social progress. He wrote about how in his student days he was interested in the Bible. Deeply touched when he read the gospels, he seriously considered becoming a Christian since the Christian faith offered a real solution to the caste system that was dividing India. One Sunday he attended a church service and intended to talk to the pastor afterward about how to become a Christian. But when an usher in that church suggested that he might want to worship with his own kind, he left and never went back. He said, and I quote: “If Christians have caste differences also, I might as well remain a Hindu.”
To avoid those kind of negative and embarrassing situations, Jesus said, “Judge not.”
We just need to leave the judging to the only person qualified to do so.
That’s what Jesus is getting across in his humorous allusion of a man with a huge log protruding from his eye as he attempts to judge the tiny speck in the eye of his brother. Who among us has the boldness to suggest we could help remove the speck, all the while ignoring the log.
The qualification for judging is perfection. The fact that all of us are caught up in the human condition called sinfulness disqualifies us from judging others.
Only God has the right to judge because his first impressions are always true, because He is the only one who knows all the facts in any situation, because He is the only one who knows everything there is to know about us.
The truth is every one of us has a few dirty secrets that we would prefer to keep to ourselves, but we can’t hide anything from God. The good news is that in spite of what God knows about us He still loves us.
Jesus said, “I came into the world, not to judge the world, but to save it.”
There is a type of crystal called Labrador Spar. At first sight, it is dull and without any luster at all. But if it is turned round and round, it will suddenly come into a position where the light strikes it in a certain way and it will sparkle with flashing beauty. Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote: “A man is like a bit of Labrador spar which has no luster as you turn it in your hand until you come to a particular angle, then it shows deep and beautiful colors.” People are like that; at times they may seem unlovely, do unlovely things, but if we look hard enough we are bound to see something good and lovely. Our task as followers of Jesus is not to condemn, but to look for the beauty in other people.
That is how we would like others to treat us, and that is what we must do for them.
In a scene from the movie, Ironwood, the main characters played by Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep stumble across an old Eskimo woman lying in the snow, drunk. Pretty much sloshed themselves, the two debate what they should do about her. “Is she a drunk or a bum?” asks Nicholson.
Streep answers, “Just a bum, been one all her life.”
“And before that?”
“Well, she hasn’t been a prostitute all her life, what was she before that?”
“I don’t know, just a little kid I guess.”
“Well a little kid’s something, she’s not a bum, she’s not a prostitute, she’s something, let’s take her in.”
The two vagrants were seeing the Eskimo woman through lenses of grace. Where society or you or I might only see a bum or a prostitute or a drunk, grace saw a little kid, a person made in the image of God, no matter how defaced that image might have become.
That’s how God looks at you and I. And that’s how you and I should look at others.