When You Judge...
Born in the '50s, I grew up in a small settlement naively believing that most people thought and felt (and therefore behaved) pretty much like me. My arrival at university changed all that. I burst out of the sheltered world in which I had grown up into an entirely foreign environment - the effect was like being shot out of a cannon and landing on another planet.
The most important education I received at university had far less to do with the chemistry, physics and maths I was studying, than with the realisation that the world was populated by a diverse range of complicated, unique individuals, each quite different to me. The complex variety of ideas, the differing viewpoints, the competing value systems all served to illustrate that the human experience is not straightforward and simple - rather it is writhingly convoluted.
I also learned that life is not a case of 'us' and 'them'. That I might find myself agreeing on some important matters with someone who looked and behaved entirely differently to me and whose lifestyle was light years away from mine, whereas someone with an apparently similar upbringing to mine, who dressed like me and seemed to 'speak my language'; might hold to completely different values.
In the course of all this learning I was brought face to face with the fact that Jesus loves all of us - both the 'saved' and the 'unsaved' - equally. And that his task for us, if we are to enter into his realm and live by the standards of his Kingdom, is that we choose to love each other - not just other Christians, but everyone.
Some say that the command is to love our brothers and sisters in Christ ("Love each other as I have loved you")1 and that the obligation does not extend outside that circle. Yet when Jesus was asked about the greatest commandment he replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments."2 And we are all familiar with his response when he was asked "Who is my neighbour?"3
It seems clear from the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus regards the 'untouchables' of our society as our neighbours. In fact according to Kenneth Bailey in his book Through Peasant Eyes,4 there are significant clues in the story to indicate that Jesus cast himself as the despised Samaritan. The priest and the Levi who steered clear of the 'unclean' victim were not the heroes in this story.
Jesus asks all members of the human race to connect with one another through the medium of love: to allow love to be a filter through which we perceive each other. Yet how often do we overhear conversations like this:
"Oh him. I wouldn't bother about him. He's a nasty piece of work he is." "Yes and what about his wife? Parading herself about as if she was somebody. I mean just look at the clothes she wears. Dolling herself up like that. It's pride. That's her problem."
People can be surprisingly vicious about each other when the mood takes them. And it happens within the Church as well as outside it.
It is human nature to make judgements. It is the way in which we negotiate our earthly environment. Judging other people - in order to draw conclusions about them - is a natural and necessary part of that process and we do it all the time. We constantly evaluate people, albeit largely subconsciously, discerning how best to communicate with those we meet; whether they have similar personalities to ours or are people with whom we have little in common; whether they are friendly or otherwise; whether they need our special attention or encouragement.
In order to live with other people we need to establish whom we can trust. Many of the judgements we make when we meet people are an attempt to ascertain their trustworthiness. But sometimes we lose sight of that fact, and instead use the information we think we have gleaned about people to condemn them. In the process we may be doing more damage than we realise, as I discovered last week when my eye fell on this verse:
"Talk and behave like people who are going to be judged by the law of freedom, because there will be judgement without mercy for those who have not been merciful themselves; but the merciful need have no fear of judgement."5
Maybe it was the unfamiliar translation, but it struck me forcibly: "judgement without mercy for those who judge without mercy . . ." HECK! The idea is terrifyingly chilling. I realised that I had spent a lot of my life worrying about what people think about me, when instead I should be putting all that energy into worrying about what I think about other people!