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When it comes to judging, it's what we fail to see that lands us in the ditch!
"Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful."Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; . . .Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
"And He spoke a parable to them: 'Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.'
"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye."
Luke 6:36-40 & Matthew 7:1-5 NKJV
Look Beneath the Surface
You can also read "the Sermon on the Mount" in Luke's Gospel in the last half of chapter 6. It's a shortened version, much abbreviated, but with an expanded section under the heading, "Do Not Judge." That fact is a matter of interest because it reveals something unique about Luke. It provides a window into his thinking through which we get a glimpse into his heart.
When Luke began his Gospel with the account of Jesus' birth, he did not mention the three wise men whose learning, wealth and influence made them celebrities in King Herod's palace. Instead, Luke told the story of the simple shepherds on the hillside, those either too old or too young to do anything but tend the livestock. With astonishment we read that sheepherders were the special people to whom the angel of God announced the birth of a Savior, Christ the Lord! These were the heroes of faith who believed the angel's message and went to worship at the manger. These were the first evangelists, who excitedly spread the good news as far and wide as they could. And all who heard it, marveled at the amazing things told to them by common, ordinary shepherds.
Luke included a number of stories not found in the other three Gospels. He pictured women sweeping their houses and preparing meals, plus one who did the unthinkable and sat down with the men to hear Jesus! Luke wrote the two classics about the "good" Samaritan and the "prodigal" Jewish son! Only from Luke do we learn about the persistent widow who overcame the resistance of the powers-that-be! Only Luke recorded the story of that despicable tax collector, Zacchaeus, and his joyful acceptance of Jesus! Luke knew the name of poor Lazarus while leaving the rich man nameless! And only Luke penned these words of Jesus: "When you give a dinner, do not ask your friends, relatives, or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you back and you be repaid. Instead invite the poor, the maimed, the blind. . . ."!
Are we listening? Jesus interacted with women and children in addition to the men, and with sinners and religious people alike. Surely we get the message--the poor and the outcast are important in God's sight. Those people we pre-judge and separate from ourselves, are the very ones God wants us to seek out and include!
Luke was sensitive to how one group of people perceived another group of people. So when Jesus said, "Judge not," it may have pushed a hot button. Mostly we think of judgment as being critical of the things we see and disapprove in other people. But Luke heard a different drum. How are we to understand the parable which Matthew missed, yet Luke thought so significant? Why would Jesus move from judging to blindness? What is the connection between the blind guide and the disciple with his or her teacher?
Here's what Jesus said: Be merciful, just as God is merciful. Judge not, that you be not judged. . . . For the measure you use, will be measured back to you. Don't be foolish-- A blind person can not see to guide another blind person! Neither is a disciple able to discern more clearly than his teacher. A disciple can only hope to one day realize he has become like his teacher.
Not only is judgment about the things we see in other people, judging also involves what we fail to see. And blind folly leads right into the ditch. Eyes, clouded by false assumptions and prejudice, cannot see who the other person really is. We miss a lot when we get no further than the crust.
Physical characteristics immediately catch our eye, but they may greatly obscure the heart and soul of the other person. A tattoo is not the totality of someone's life. Poverty is not a sin just as wealth is not a virtue. The image we perceive may not be the message being sent. What we say may get lost in the other person's preconceptions. What foolish games we play!
Jesus presented an alternative, that of disciple and teacher. It's a no-brainer. Just humble yourself and learn from the Teacher. Prejudice is a thief and a killer; mercy gives life and hope, peace and freedom. When we are merciful, we begin the realization that we are becoming like our heavenly Father.
Luke, who elevated lowly shepherds, inspires us. Look again, more deeply this time. Before we write someone off, attach a dismal label, and relegate them to the far-away fringes, we need to dig farther down and uncover those hidden treasures below the surface. Which is, of course, what our Lord requires--that we do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God (Micah 5:8).
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: Which makes for a better Christmas story--shepherds or wisemen? Explain your answer in a sentence or two.
When you are filling out a form and the question asks for your race, how do you respond? How would you like to answer that question? Why is the question regarding race a difficult one for some people?
What does it mean to stereotype people? Describe some conventional stereotypes. Do you ever feel offended by these popular preconceptions?
How do you form your ideas of what people are like? What message does your general appearance convey to others? Where are some places you cannot go because of the way you look?
First impressions are sometimes incorrect. Give an example of a situation in which you initially misjudged someone and then changed your mind about them. Explain what caused you to change your opinion of that person.
What is prejudice? Were you ever taught to hate (or avoid) a particular group of people? If so, who? And why? How do you feel about that group of people now? In what ways does prejudice rob and kill? How are pre-judgments like falling into a ditch?
Is it true that if you listen to those who espouse hate, you will become what they are and be like them. What was the last time you were alarmed by a hate message? What can be done to counteract prejudice and hatred? Is there anything individuals can do about it?
Have you ever been pre-judged? If so, what effect did that have on your life? What are some labels that have been attached to you?
Who are the "outcasts" that we look down on today? What can we do as congregations or individuals to include them? Why would we even want to include an outsider?Share some stories about people who have come back from "the fringes."