So I moved from Belfast, Northern Ireland last week to Detroit, Michigan, USA. Two cities that have actually got a lot in common. Two cities that have a rich musical history and two cities that have seen riots and trouble over the years and are in the process of rebuilding their great names. Naturally then I have been regularly checking out the bbc news website keeping uptodate with the goings on back home.
One thing that caught my eye this week was the reaction from the Health minister Edwin Poots when taking part in a debate with Sinn Fein at Stormont, on the banning of blood donated from gay men.
His reaction got me thinking about how we deal with our own crap; with how we deal when people judge us for something that we do. The natural response is to go on the attack ourselves. I believe this is what Edwin Poots did. He didn’t like the questioning on his own character so decided to question the character of his counterpart, specifically that of Sinn Fein’s president Gerry Adams.
I get this reaction. I know too well that when someone points out my flaws my initial response is to point out theirs. Heck, even if someone kindly tells me they disagree with me I go on the offensive. Who are you to tell me I am imperfect when you regularly do this or that? It got me thinking then, is this why politics in Northern Ireland seems to go around and around in circles. That indeed is a blog for another time.
But it also made me think of a couple of different parts in the Bible. The first part was John 8 when the Pharisees, a strict Jewish group who believed upholding the Jewish Law was essential to being a part of God’s family; brought out a woman who had been caught in adultery to Jesus. Their plan was to get Jesus to condemn the women, but in fact He wrote a cryptic message on the ground and then invited the men who had never sinned to begin throwing rocks at the women. Unsurprisingly, none were able to do so.
The other part is the beginning of Matthew 7 where Jesus says
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
These two different sections address the issue of judging. It raises questions like who has the right to judge someone else for their actions and how are we to judge someone else for their actions? It’s not that Jesus tells us not to judge others but instead reminds us that in most instances we probably don’t have much right to judge others, certainly not in the way we commonly do. Where we judge with a belief that we are perfect or that we are better than others.
Jesus message is simple. Life is an even playing field. And we’re all losing.
This then changes how we see others and how we view their lives and their actions. When you begin to see the world how Jesus does we can no longer see others as different and wrong. Really we’re all the same. We’re all wrong.
The only other way then is to treat others with love and grace. Anything else Jesus says, is like having a plank in our eye while trying to remove a speck from someone else’s.
Jesus cleverly uses a metaphor that involves sight. When we’re blinded by our own faults how can we possibly be able to see the other person as they truly are? The answer is we can’t. We can’t see them like Jesus does, with love and grace despite their faults. If we see ourselves as better than others, we’re as good as blind.
This blindness doesn’t just prevent us from truly seeing other people, it’s prevents us from truly seeing God. Do we view God as someone who is constantly waiting for us to screw up so He can punish us? When we are blinded to our own faults but not those of others, this is the view of God we uphold. It is a view tinted with fear. Fear of God finding out who we really are and the fear of being excluded from God’s love. This is why we often attack others when our own sins are brought to light.
If our version of God is of a sinister and impossible to please taskmaster then our fear of Him is going to drive us to highlight the faults of others.
“I’m afraid that God doesn’t really love me the way I have been told, so I’m darn well going to bring you down with me.”
But what if God is better than what is often portrayed.
Jesus counters this blinkered view of God with what He says next.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Here he talks about a Father who is incredibly generous, who knows what is good for His children and is ready and prepared to give it. This is not the same God who we run from when we mess up. This is the God who when we do mess up (and we will) will welcome us to turn towards Him in a complete openness of our faults and not be afraid anymore.
When we do this we can’t help but do the same for others. We’re slow to anger. We’re inclined to pause so our words are kind. Now, this idea of not judging others could be taken to mean we should never speak out against evil. If this is the conclusion you come to then it is a wrong one. We are called to show God’s love on Earth and if we are to truly do that we need to call out the evil that goes on.
For Jesus this was never black and white. He was 100% human (plus 100% divine) and completely understood that there was evil that needed to be stopped and a tension to deal with. The danger is that we would let those who carry out great injustices against their fellow man carry on, for fear of being seen as judging. It is often the subtle evil that we ignore. Doing this will deny love for those who are trafficked everyday, for those who are being abused physically and emotionally at home, for those who are poor. When we let the actions of inidividuals or organisations who let these things happen go unchecked, this is not love.
It’s not a matter of judging them, it’s a matter of loving them enough to stop them.
Jesus came not to judge us, but to free us so we can be fully alive here and now. Stopping horrible injustice is not judging, but simply extending that love to the victims and perpetrators alike. Allowing all people to begin healing so they can live fully human.
But to do that we have to stop seeing it as us versus them. This is the natural conlusion that the judgment Jesus warns of leads to. That I am better than you. Which ultimately leads to love being lost.
If we’re to be judged for anything, let it be for not showing that love to everyone.