Growing up means learning about right and wrong. Growing up in Vermont means learning about right and wrong as it pertains to the environment. Maybe it was just the 1980’s “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” movement, but I grew up in a state that took caring for the environment very seriously. My conscience was shaped by an understanding that trash must be taken care of appropriately – a good person recycles, a bad person does not, and an evil person litters their trash all over the sides of the road!
Over the years, a picture formed in my head of these ‘sinners’. Obviously their cars were a mess! Too lazy to properly dispose of their debris, they tossed it on their car floors and when their cars got too messy, they started chucking it out the window, leaving it for someone else to clean up.
Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered the truth: People who are littering have clean cars! Not wanting to give the appearance of untidiness for even a few minutes, they get rid of any trash immediately. Rather than go through the (sometimes complicated) disposal process, they take the easy route and make it someone else’s problem.
As the Son of God, Jesus knew what He was getting Himself into when He came to earth. Having existed for eternity, He knew the state of the human condition and knew very well that His experience would be anything but pristine and polished. Though He carried in Himself the pure, uncontaminated righteousness of God, He plunged head-on into the mess of humanity.
But even with all that righteousness – even though as the Son of God His understanding of right and wrong was completely just (John 5:30) and even though He had “perfect knowledge” (Job 37:16) of every deed (Hebrews 4:13), every heart (Psalm 33:15), every desire, and every thought (1 Chronicles 28:9) – He did not spend His time diagnosing sin. Though He could have accurately judged every person He encountered, He suspended His judgment.
Well, most of it, that is. He didn’t hold back when it came to one group – the Jewish religious leaders. From a moral perspective, these men appeared to be living clean lives. They outwardly demonstrated obedience to the religious customs and teachings of the Torah, and because of their confidence in their own righteousness, they felt at liberty to look around and declare others to be “sinners”.
But in Matthew 23, Jesus pointed out that “Everything they [did was] done for people to see” (v. 5) and “they [did] not practice what they preach[ed]” (v. 3). He said to them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (v. 27-28)
By drawing attention to the sins of others, the Pharisees succeeded in avoiding the work of properly disposing of their own trash. But, being so intent on keeping their image clean, they missed out on experiencing the full character of God. And what made Jesus so angry was that they prevented others from fully experiencing Him as well.
I’m a (self-diagnosed) diagnoser. Every action has a reason and I’m constantly analyzing the cause and effect of people’s behavior. When someone does something that upsets or frustrates me, I determine the root cause of it (usually some sort of sin, of course) and then find a sympathetic ear to share my diagnosis with. (Because, thankfully I’m not like that.)
But over the past few weeks, I’ve been convicted (I guess that’s what happens when you do a Bible study called “Discerning the Voice of God” 😜) about my words. When I form a diagnosis, I feel an urgent need to tell someone – but why? What’s my motivation? When I allow the Holy Spirit to be the real Diagnoser, I see the root cause – believing my knowledge to be perfect and my judgment to be just, I’ve built myself up to take God’s place as judge.
In his sermon on “Judging Others” two weeks ago, our pastor reminded us that we always have the choice to suspend our judgment.* “Suspending” for me means pushing pause and checking my motivation before I share my thoughts. It doesn’t mean I’ll never say it and it doesn’t mean I’m not right (I may very well be!), it just means I don’t need to say it right now. And in those moments I’ve felt the nudge to “suspend,” I’ve looked back a few minutes or hours later and chucked my diagnosis right out the window because sharing it had no benefit for anyone!
If you’ve ever gone for a ride in our car, you’ve seen our mess. I cringe every time the elementary school drop-off line helper opens the door to let my kids out because you never know what’s going to come tumbling out of there! Sandwich bags full of crushed snacks, open containers of Chick-Fil-A sauce, broken plastic cups – you name it, it’s probably in the back of our car!
We’ve all got trash in our lives. We can pretend it’s not there or try to throw it out the window, but until we take it through the proper disposal procedure, it’s going to remain a burden. Jesus came not to judge the world, but to make a way for us to exchange our mess for mercy. It may not be tidy, but it’s not complicated – it’s a single-stream process and we can hand it all over to Him – judgment of others (and judgment of others’ judgment) included!
*http://hope-cc.org/watch “ROMANS: Part 3: Judging Others” by Roman Kupecky (January 21, 2018)