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Happy? Lay Off Judging
March 12, 1995

LUKE 6:37; 41-42, ROMANS 2:1-4

It was overcast and hazy, as it is most mornings this time of year. The lake, far below at the bottom of the hill, was barely visible; but we could see the shore and the bouncing waves. It was a warm day. Birds were singing. Mustard was in bloom all around us as we sat on the side of what is now called the Mount of Beatitudes on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, where we listened to members of our group read aloud the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7. Indeed, it was inspiring with a touch of unreality and awe.

I'm preaching a series of sermons on some of Jesus' radical teachings, most of which were gathered together in a section of both Matthew and Luke. Matthew said Jesus taught on a mountain side. Luke said he taught on a plain. No doubt Jesus taught in many places. Where we were sitting is also believed to be in the vicinity of the feeding of the 5,000. Perhaps you have wondered how one person could address such a crowd without sound systems. Our tour guide explained that there is a place down near the bottom of the mountain on which we were sitting that provides natural amplification and which forms a natural amphitheater where thousands can hear clearly.

The teaching we are considering today is a good reminder for all of us. Do not judge; and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Or, to put it another way, a lot of folk make themselves miserable by thinking they have to be perfect and make everyone else perfect, by judging, criticizing, pointing out their faults, and in general, trying to be helpful! What they end up doing is making themselves miserable, as well as everyone around them. People aren't perfect, and since when did we think God commissioned us to be in charge of the Perfection Patrol, with the mission of uncovering imperfection in others!

We dare not judge others, we dare not criticize others because we are not fit to judge. In every judgment, we condemn ourselves, said Jesus. Luke 6:41-42, Jesus said, Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or, how can you say to your neighbor, "Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye," when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? When you point a finger at someone else, you have three fingers pointing at yourself. Interestingly, Luke puts the teaching, Do not judge, immediately following Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Don't be so quick to judge other people. Be merciful, as God is merciful to you.

Dwight Morrow, once American Ambassador to Mexico, said, We judge ourselves by our ideals; we judge others by their actions. We know what our intentions are, so we can rationalize our errors, excuse mistakes, overlook inadequacies. But, in others we can't see their intentions. We can't see their ideals. We can't see their motivations. What we see is their actions. What we see is their mistakes, errors, and inadequacies; and so we are critical, without understanding their intentions.

Cut it out. Lay off, says Jesus. Lay off judging. Lay off criticizing. Do you realize how freeing is this teaching? Look at the pressure Jesus is removing from us. We don't have to be perfect. We don't have to be in charge of seeing that everyone else is perfect. Relax! Live and let live. We don't have to have positions on everything. We don't have to have standards for other people's behavior. We don't have to put people into little boxes. We can give people the benefit of a doubt. We can let people be themselves.

Of course, Jesus knew that we continually assess, evaluate, and choose (make judgments). Jesus certainly made judgments, judgments on people such as the pharisees; but, Jesus made judgments not only on actions, but on intentions, motivations, and ideals; Jesus made judgments after all the facts were in. What often happens with us is that we too quickly make judgments before we have all the facts.

I remember a conversation I had with a woman during a break in an all-day meeting. She looked at a young adult woman with critical disgust and said, "Look, at that girl rudely chewing gum. Doesn't she know how awful it looks?" I said to the woman, "What you don't know is that the young woman has a terrible weight problem. She is on a very strict diet, a diet that is making her very nervous and high strung. Chewing gum is her one way of keeping control of her emotions." The critic did not have all the facts. She did not take the time to first walk in the moccasins of the one she was judging. She was quick to judge actions, without understanding intentions. She didn't have all the facts.

Jesus' caution about judging people also applies to situations. A common shortcoming of all of us is to make judgments before obtaining all the facts. We stayed two nights in a kibbutz, a communal farm which operates a resort on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Can you imagine the setting? Our rooms were all on the ground level, all of them faced the lake, all of them had porches on which we sat and watched the sun set over the Sea of Galilee. As the sun set, the lights came on in Tiberias, located across the lake. It was unbelievable to be where Jesus walked, and to watch nature in its grandeur.

I should tell you that the last stop before reaching the kibbutz was the city of Cana where Jesus performed his first miracle, the turning of water into wine at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. A church has been built over what is thought to be the site of the miracle. Can you guess what they sell in Cana of Galilee? Of course, wedding wine! And, coincidentally, in a little shop across the narrow street from the church, they sold wedding wine. Of course, most of us had to buy some. Being the last of the big spenders, I bought a small bottle for only one American dollah! So, that evening sitting on our porch, watching the sun go down o'er Galilee, we sipped wedding wine of Cana. Pretty old wine, wouldn't you say! Aged! It was terrible, as you might imagine. It tasted like sweet syrup, actually.

Anyway, to get back to my illustration of judging, I was the first to shower. Water in that desert land is very precious. The Sea of Galilee, which is actually a lake, is the only fresh water source. You can imagine how I from California was especially sensitive to the critical water situation. After my shower I told my roommate that evidently the Galilee region was really taking water conservation seriously by limiting the shower spray. It had a very weak flow. My roommate, who was from Montana, listened with interest, and when he got into the shower, removed the shower head, and cleaned out the sand which had accumulated! I had made a quick judgment, and worked out a very logical explanation of water conservation. Except, I didn't have all the facts; and when I showered the next day, lo and behold, I had a full spray!

Get all the facts before judging. And, in regards to other people, it is best to lay off judging. Let God do the judging. It's not your job. It's not your responsibility. Your responsibility is to take care of the speck in your eye.

© 1995 Douglas I. Norris