Scripture for Sunday: Luke 6:37-42
37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
39 He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 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? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.
Notes on the Text:
Our reading for this week is from the famous sermon in which Jesus gave many radical teachings that challenged the dominant culture of his time and which continue to challenge us today. In the Gospel of Matthew, we know this as the Sermon on the Mount, but in Luke, the location is a plain. According to Thomas Frank, “Matthew has Jesus on top of a mountain…Which will it be -the elevated Jesus or the Jesus among us? No juxtaposition in the Gospels could make clearer what a difference one’s perspective makes…If I am looking up at Jesus, above me, like Moses on a mountain top between earth and heaven, the Beatitudes appear as a higher law, a covenant made with a community to which I aspire to belong…If by contrast I am looking at Jesus on my level, with Jesus looking up at me because he has knelt down to touch someone sick or lame…In Matthew, I sense Jesus looking down, inviting me to come up and see the big picture –a new covenant community of pure hearts and hunger for righteousness. In Luke, I sense Jesus is looking up at me, as if to say, what are you doing right this minute? People are sick and dying right here, tormented by spirits. They have come from all over the land, from the coast to the river, from south to north as far as you can go in a few days’ journey. Will you get down here with me and help?”
A modern-day equivalent to what Jesus did is a TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) talk. According to their website “TED is a nonprofit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks (18 minutes or less).” The idea is that such talks could change our human cultures and thus change the world. Jesus certainly believed in changing the dominant culture and so did the Gospel writers who recorded his teachings to spread them to as many people as possible. As we look at compassion this week, Jesus’ teachings are just as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago.
Jesus’ teachings about refraining from judging others can be life changing for all of us. If we take these teachings seriously, the world would be turned upside down. The Christian faith spread in the early centuries because of its zeal for compassion. It was not the buildings, the sermons, the doctrines, the powers, or wealth which the followers of Jesus had that transformed people’s lives. It was instead the very simple and yet courageous acts of compassion which the followers of Jesus practiced day in and day out. Christians were also inclusive in their communities of all people. Faith was not a special club to join but an invitation to embrace others in love, especially those who were mistreated or excluded by society.
I love the short parable which Jesus gives about judgment. He said, “can a blind person guide a blind person?” Blindness is at the heart of many of our human struggles. We see only through our vantage point and that is why it is dangerous for us to judge others without opening our eyes to the larger picture of their lives. Jesus was not saying that we should not judge at all because we must discern and judge good things from bad things in life. What he was addressing was people’s blindness to the struggles and the humanity of others. It was also about our blindness to the loving example of God. This blindness often leads us to stereotype, gossip, pigeon-hole, and stigmatize others. And the worst part of this is that we are often unaware of our own blind spots. We don’t know what we don’t know. William Allen writes this about the word “judge” in our Bible reading for this week, “’To judge’ can mean to form an opinion as to whether a person is in accord with Christian principles. Alternatively, ‘to judge’ can carry the juridical sense of passing sentence on the guilty, as a court-room judge condemns criminals to prison terms. In verse 37, Luke uses ‘judge not’ in the second sense, making this clear by his use of the parallel, ‘do not condemn,’ and its opposite, ‘forgive.’ In each case, guilt is assumed, because forgiveness is unneeded where no sin exists. In other words, Jesus does not forbid forming an opinion regarding others’ faults; indeed, he assumes the validity of so doing in verses 34 and 41-45. He does, however, prohibit condemnation on the basis of such discernment…A world bent on justice through judgment fulfills the anonymous maxim, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for tooth leaves the whole world blind and toothless.’ The generosity that is forgiveness on the other hand, strives to create an overflow of goodness (vs. 38). Judging operates on an economy of scarcity: purity’s borders must be defended. Forgiveness promotes an economy of abundance: invite all into loving community, and depend on God’s generous measure (v. 38b).”
Our attitude toward others could open or close us to compassion. How we choose to see others has a tremendous impact on us and all of our relationships. From an early age we learn to judge others negatively. Our insecurities, fears, lack of knowledge, and need to control often lead us to focus on what is negative in others to the point of forgetting that they are created in the image of God. This kind of attitude has tremendous impact on our world. If you think of the big episodes of human cruelty throughout history such as the Holocaust, an attitude of judgment and prejudice was always essential for stripping people of their humanity.
So how do we overcome and transform prejudice and negative judgment? In her book Boundless Compassion, Joyce Rupp writes this, “We are capable of changing what we think and how we respond. The more intentionally we concentrate on being nonjudgmental, nonviolent, and forgiving, the stronger our possibility of being able to respond that way becomes. For instance, if I am having difficulty in trying to be less judgmental about someone, I can reduce that negativity by consciously intending to notice my thoughts about that person, and then choosing to alter them if they are not kind. As I do so repeatedly, the neurons in that area of my brain gain strength in their ability to be less judgmental. Awareness of my thoughts increases, and I am more conscious of where I let those thoughts lead me.”
Rupp concludes that, “We plant the seeds of compassion by being aware of our thoughts and feelings, and by the deliberate intention to think and respond in kindhearted manner.”
This week, I invite you to take one day to pay attention to your thoughts and your tendencies to judge others negatively. Every time you become aware of such thoughts, take a deep breath and release the thought on your exhale. Take another day to fast from judging others releasing all the negative energy you spend on such judgments. Start this day with an intention of seeing the good in everyone you encounter, even if the good you will notice is just that they are alive.
“If you want others to be more loving, choose to love first.
If you want a reconciled outer world, reconcile your own inner world.
If you are working for peace out there, create it inside as well.
If you notice other people’s irritability, let go of your own.
If you wish to find some outer stillness, find it within yourself.
If you are working for justice, treat yourself justly too
If you find yourself resenting the faults of others, stop resenting your own.
If the world seems desperate, let go of your own despair.
If you want a just world, start being just in small ways yourself.
If your situation feels hopeless, honor the one spot of hope inside you.
If you want to find God, then honor God within you, and you will always see God beyond you. For it is only God in you who knows where and how to look for God.”
~Richard Rohr in The Naked Now
Prayer by Joyce Rupp:
“Merciful One, you look into the heart and see what we mortals cannot see. Pull us away from making disparaging judgments. Move us toward greater compassion for those whose appearance and behavior differ from ours.” Amen.