A few weeks ago I walked into the local Wal-Mart for a few essentials. I love walking the aisles of Wal-Mart since people watching is a favorite past-time. One of these days, security is going to ask me to leave for staring at people. As is typical, you see all kinds of shapes and sizes from all walks of life. I’m shocked at what people wear. I’m stunned by the lack of personal hygiene. People seem to come to Wal-Mart as if they just ran out of their burning house.
This particular day, I caught myself being extra judgmental towards those I saw. I found myself thinking extremely critical thoughts. After finishing my self-righteous shopping spree and before security could talk with me, I was out the door and headed to my car.
And then I saw him.
A man in his late 20’s, shaved head, tattoos all over his visible body, chain on his pants seemingly attached to an invisible wallet. He was wearing those tall, black Army issue boots. He looked like the kind of guy that would mug his own mother, on her birthday. His appearance alone would make most anyone nervous – particularly in a parking lot. He didn’t walk but rather strutted like he owned the parking lot. Maybe he did. Maybe he was walking towards me to collect the rent? My mind raced. What did he want with me? With no one else around, he was clearly coming my direction. I assumed he was going to approach me for money. If he didn’t outright mug me, I anticipated him coming up with some story that would tug at my emotional heart-strings. I figured he would say that he only needed a few dollars to help him reach his goal. As he approached, I braced myself for the worse. I was right. He did want my money. He also had some great “story” about why he needed the money. His pressing “need?” He volunteered for a local, Christian ministry that was designed to help orphaned children in need. The more we talked, the more I realized he was the “real deal.” He wasn’t a thug, he was a minister. He wasn’t after money for him, but for needy children. He was dressed like a thug gang member but I realized pretty quickly, his heart was more pure than mine. I walked away humbled that I had so harshly judged another brother merely because of how he looked. As I walked to my car, a few dollars lighter – I was grateful and sad for the truth I just discovered about myself:
I am a full-fledged judger of others.
If you were to ask someone what is the most widely known verse in the Bible, most people might guess John 3:16. After all, there is some fanatic at almost every professional stadium in the country that holds up a cardboard sign with that reference on it. But, according to a survey (given by some official person, in some far away state, interviewing a certain number of self-proclaimed non-believers) apparently Matthew 7:1 is the most recognized verse in all of the Bible. If you do not know it by reference, you surely know it by sight. It reads,
“Judge not, lest you be judged.”
Apparently more non-church people know that verse than any verse about God’s amazing love. And why would most non-believers and atheists know that verse so well? Probably because they have been judged with impunity by those called to love them. And I realized, I not only joined their judging ranks – judging had become a subtle part of my daily lifestyle. Everywhere I go, I judge people. I judge their socioeconomic status by their appearance. I judge their job by what they drive. I judge their parenting by their children’s “snapshot” behavior in public. I judge their education by their speech. I judge their health by their weight or diet. I judge their soul by their deeds. And, God forbid, anyone applied the same judging standard to me – on any given day I could easily be considered a POOR, UNEMPLOYED, UNEDUCATED, UNHEALTHY, PAGAN, BAD PARENT.
As I am looking down at the “gang member” with Army boots, someone else is probably looking down at the suburban Dad staring at him. And someone else is probably judging the person who is judging the person who is judging me. We all do it to others and yet we cannot stand when it is done to us. We judge others so frequently, we do not even realize we are doing it and the millisecond we feel the judging stare on us, we shout out Matthew 7:1: “HEY! JUDGE NOT PUNK, LEST YE BE JUDGED.” (“Punk” is in my paraphrased version. For some reason, it seems more holy to say words like “lest” and “ye” when quoting the Bible in our favor)
When life is good to us, we walk proudly around our planet. When we have a great job, we walk with confidence. When we have great kids, we raise our heads with pride. When we drive a nice car or reveal a nice smile or have a nice diploma hanging in our office, we feel impenetrable to the judgments of others. When we look thin or have money falling out of our wallet, we feel like we have “made it.” But have we? Are the people who do not have all of that, “less” than us? Is someone inferior simply because of what they drive? Is the man on the street a worse person because he does not have a 401k? Are you really a better parent because your child is on the honor roll? Are you really in better shape than the guy at the gym simply because you look thinner than he? Are you really a better person because you sit in a pew every Sunday or give more money to a charity?
We live in a physical world and therefore we judge others with a physical standard. And yet, as I learned in a Wal-Mart parking lot, there are people walking around who look dangerous but are actually safe to babysit my kids. Maybe even safer than my current babysitters? There are people who drive lemons who actually may have more money than the woman in the Lexus. There are people who look in shape at the gym but they could actually be less healthy than the overweight man at Dunkin Donuts. And there are plenty who play the part at church who could actually be hiding a sin worse than those in prison.
I have come to realize that all these years I have been judging others by the wrong standard. I judge according to what I can see instead of judging by what I know. And since most of the time, I don’t actually know the person I am judging (or their heart or motives or why they are in whatever position they are in), I am not in a position to judge them at all. This is why Jesus says it so directly in Matthew 7, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (1-3)
Though He was without sin, Jesus understood something fundamental about the human existence. Since none of us are perfect we are rarely in a position to judge others. I might be an adulterer and you might be a murderer but at the end of the day, we are both still guilty. The jay-walker and the bank robber are still both law breakers. We shouldn’t judge others simply because they sin differently than us.
I think this is the reason why Jesus was so loved by the sinners of His day. Everywhere He went, He was surrounded by the social outcasts. Lepers pursued him. Prostitutes chased Him. The blind, the deaf, the lame, the broken, the poor – they all lined up for His attention. From annoying children to crooked tax collectors to half-breed Samaritans – they were all drawn to His character. He allowed an unclean prostitute to touch His feet with her hair. He invited Himself to dinner at the home of Zaccheus, a hated tax collector. He invited a thief (named Judas) into His inner circle. He healed the servants of His enemies. He didn’t look at their appearance or wallets or social standing. He merely loved them where they were and helped them how He could.
The only Person in a position to judge, never judged them. The only Person who was allowed to look down at everyone, never did. He actually preferred their company over the “church folk” and wanted to spend time with them. He accepted them all, warts and all. While everyone else pushed them away to the outskirts of town, He brought them close to His chest. Those that others wouldn’t get near, Jesus actually touched them with His holy hands. While the church was busy judging them for their appearance and behavior or past, Jesus was busy looking at their heart and their future.
Where are you on the judging past-time? I have a feeling you judge more than you realize. Here’s a humbling diagnostic test. How many people in your social circle look nothing like you? If you were to host a party, what would the guest list look like? If they all drive your car and wear your clothes and shop at your stores, perhaps you are missing something.
When was the last time you physically touched an undesirable? Or helped a minister who looked like a mugger? Or introduced yourself to the tattooed loner on the street? Or sat next to the single divorcee at church? Or invited the homeless guy down the street for a home cooked meal? Or talked with the local prostitute? Has it been awhile? Has it ever happened? If not, why not? IF you live in a socially comfortable bubble surrounded by your socially comfortable friends, the following sentence may not sit well with you.
If Jesus came to town, He probably wouldn’t be your close friend.
Would He invite Himself to your house? Or attend your church? From what I can tell, He would rather be at the local bar. Or outside the brothel. Or sitting on the street corner conversing with the homeless. Without doubt, children would be nearby.
How could such a holy, sinless Person love the social misfits without judgment and be so comfortable on their turf and in their presence? How can our unholy, sinful selves not be?
“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:15-16