It’s such an easy thing to do isn’t it, to find fault with the behaviour of other people? Not ourselves of course, because we are fine, it’s just everyone else! We might be in the supermarket and criticise or judge the woman who raises her voice at her child having a tantrum (been there, on both sides) or be quick to criticise someone for driving really, really slowly when you’re on a road which is showing the national speed limit.
In a recent morning prayer, we read the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11). The woman is brought before Jesus, in another attempt by the ruling priests and teachers to trap him into blasphemy, and Jesus bends down and writes in the dust. (Was this change of focus an example of how to calm down a crowd baying for blood?). He eventually stands up and says to them that anyone without sin may cast the first rock. No one does; they drop their stones and leave the scene.
Jesus asks her a question, “does anyone condemn you?” to which she replies “no one Lord”; “then neither do I”. This is the heart of God that Jesus is wanting us to know and understand, that God does not condemn. He has a heart of love, because God is love. And love transforms.
Jesus loves and we are accepted. That is an amazing thing, which we are called to know for ourselves and which we are called to model. He didn’t offer any judgement on Zacchaeus’ stealing and fraudulent past either and yet Zacchaeus totally changed his ways (Luke 19:1-10). Getting alongside him is all that Jesus did. He literally met him where he was and spent time with him in his home. Being with Jesus is what changed him, not any critical comments or judgement. I wonder if the lack of criticism made his heart burn with guilt? Did he feel so unworthy of hosting such an honoured guest that he had to do something about it? We can’t be sure of all these things, but we do know that it was purely the presence of Jesus that transformed his ways. The presence of love itself.
We are wholly loved and wholly accepted and it’s love that is the transforming thing. Tim Keller puts it like this;
“The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Timothy Keller (2011). “The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God”, p.31, Penguin
If we criticise and judge others we invite God to judge us too, and that – on a daily basis – probably means that we are found to be falling short on many occasions. But if we extend compassion, love and a willingness to be with people regardless of their past, then we might help them to know the love of God. After all, if I am extended constant love then why shouldn’t I reflect it? We might, with God’s guidance, be able to reach a hope or longing for acceptance that’s been well buried and hidden by rocks of criticism and judgement.
Perhaps I’ll just stand next to the mum or dad in the supermarket next time I notice that horrible experience. Just stand there, and see what God leads me to do to show them understanding.
Prayer and reflection
Lord, help me to move that rock of criticism and judgement, to accept others the way that God accepts me every day. I’m not perfect Lord, so help me to stop expecting perfection in others. Help me to be the means whereby others know they’re accepted and loved.