Free from Judgment

[Jesus said,] “But to what will I compare this generation? … For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, “He has a demon’; the Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” -Matthew 11:16, 18-19

If Jesus had lived two thousand years later, he might have said something more like this: “But to what shall I compare these Millennials and Gen Xers? These Baby Boomers and these Zoomers? And these whatever we’re calling kids born after 2015? For when one comes wearing a mask they say, ‘Look, a coward, afraid of a little flu!’ and when one comes without a mask they say, ‘Look, a fool, who doesn’t understand science!’ Or when one comes in defense of a statue they say, ‘He doesn’t know history,’ but when one comes to remove a statue they say, ‘She’s erasing history!’ Yet wisdom is known by the outcome.”

There is something timeless about division and judgment, unfortunately. We are very good at it, us humans. Once we make up our mind about anything, from the trivial to the critical, we settle down, dig in our heels, and plant roots.

Now, there is a time and place for discernment, by which I mean the process of considering one’s positions and asking curious questions, being open to changing our minds. When we discern, we put judgment on hold so we can gain perspective and information. We reflect, coming back to old convictions and reconsidering them. Discernment is necessary. That’s not what this devotion is about.

No, this devotion is about what comes after discernment. Even after thoughtful consideration, we disagree. Perhaps it’s because we had different information to guide our decisions, or because we had different values impacting us, or because we honestly were too worn out to think about another thing. So one says “He’s a demon” and another says “He’s a glutton and a drunkard,” or one says “Snowflakes” and another says “Ok boomer,” and what could have been a conversation swiftly turns to name-calling, anger, and hurt.

Sometimes this is because we jump to judgment without discernment. We use ideas like weapons and hurl our words like stones, never wondering why we’re carrying those stones in the first place. Other times we jump to judgment in self-defense, preferring to attack others rather than consider we might be in the wrong.

The leap to judgment always has one cause at its root: sin. It’s sin that leads us to presume we’ve got it all right. It’s sin that eggs us on when we only look for voices that already agree with us. It’s sin that pulls us away from loving our neighbor. For that matter, it’s sin that narrows our view of who really is our neighbor. It’s sin that heaps us up with the weight of judgment- both our own and that someone else dumped on us. It’s sin that whispers that changing our minds is weak. It’s sin that yells over other perspectives to drown them out. It’s sin that burdens us with all judgment’s weary weight.

Do you know what Jesus had to say about burdens just a few verses later? “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Mt. 11:28) Jesus takes away our burdens, including our judgment.

When he forgives, it’s not a half-hearted, “It’s okay this time but try not to do it again.” When Jesus forgives us, he commits grand theft judgment, taking the stones from our hands and throwing them to the cross. When Jesus forgives us, he takes our treasured sense of being self-righteous and replaces it with God’s righteousness. That’s the only way. Otherwise, we like judgment too much to give it up on our own. We need the Holy Spirit in our lives, prying judgment out of our hearts and words and fingertips. We need to be set free from judgment’s power over us.

The band Jars of Clay put it this way in their song “Eyes Wide Open:”

So God bruise the heels we’ve dug in the ground

That we might move closer to love

Pull out the roots we’ve dug in so deep

Finish what You’ve started

Help us to believe

Keep our eyes wide open

(Love is kind and love is daring everything we need to keep our eyes)

Keep our eyes wide open

(Love is kind and love is daring everything we need to keep our eyes)

We can’t go on, seems this conversation’s done

It’s so hard to win these fights and love you at the same time

So take my hand ’til grace makes a way to bend

‘Til the things I said to ruin only lead to my own end

So God bruise the heels we’ve dug in the ground

That we might move closer to love

Pull out the roots we’ve dug in so deep

Finish what You’ve started

Help us to believe

Let us pray: God, take away our judgment. Take the burden of judging and being judged. Open our eyes to the daring love you give. Amen.

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