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An essay by Cameron Smedley.
I often find myself walking through the world more as a judge of what’s wrong with this beautiful creation than basking in the miracle of it all.
I get up almost every day of the week between 5:00 and 6:00 AM. I make a cup of coffee, then jump into my tradition’s holy text, The Bible. I often read passages that connect with what’s on my heart – usually inner thoughts about how the world doesn’t operate the way it should. I think about the injustice of me throwing away good food when someone else is starving. I think about how I am looking for purpose and recognition in my life, while others become thought leaders and abuse their platforms. I am judging. That isn’t a bad thing. I believe we are okay, even encouraged to judge. The problem is, in my observation of myself and the world around me, we don’t judge the correct thing.
I read this ancient text recently, and it drove the point home for me.
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd. “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?” They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust. When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?” “No, Lord,” she said. And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.” — (John 8:1–11, NLT)
First, what’s a Pharisee, and why would they want to trap Jesus?
A Pharisee is a member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished from the rest of their peers by a strict observance of the traditional and written law. They were the people who knew all the rules and made sure others followed them. To be honest, that doesn’t sound like a bad thing to me. I like to know the rules, and I want to make sure others follow them as well.
But why would the people who know all the rules want to trick someone else, specifically Jesus? The problem is, many people who know the rules have difficulty seeing when and where the rules should apply – how to interpret them, knowing when (and if) they should change, and how to apply them in a way that’s fair and just. If you question a rule-follower on their rules, it takes some power away from their authority. There’s no use knowing rules that people don’t follow.
The rules were pretty clear on this one, but Jesus reacts in the most unexpected way. To the rule followers, He boldly declares, “Let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!”
We all have expectations of how things should go in our lives. At times, our fellow humans can get in the way of those expectations. When they do, we need to learn not to judge them. Instead, we need to change our focus. Jesus prompts us to move our judgement from others and onto ourselves. That internal focus is when judgement can be healthy and helpful. Look at yourself. The pain we receive will soon be forgotten, but the pain we inflict on others stays with us much longer.
Start your day with a declaration to help make someone else’s life better, and finish your day by judging your own efforts and accomplishments toward that end. The word of wisdom is true: we are who we’ve been waiting for.
Nobody on this earth has journeyed the same path as you, so judging what they do or don’t do is a fruitless action. Don’t condemn others for what they believe or don’t believe. Their starting point has brought them through different environments that you can never fully appreciate or understand.
Look for what’s been written in the dirt. In the story above, the Pharisees came to accuse, while Jesus came to connect. Why did Jesus stoop and write? Because loving each other is a messy business. It’s written in the dirt. When we’re provoked to judge another harshly, we need to remember we’re all inhabitants of this holy rock called Earth. We’re all made of the same pieces and parts. From dust we came, and to dust we will return. How then can we condemn one another? The words we use to judge others are influenced by what we believe about ourselves. The stones we throw will always land at our own feet.
Yes, you should judge – your own actions and directions. Determine what you can do to better build your world. Find that moment just before you condemn another and commit to take a look in the mirror. We all have something we need to work on. We’re all sinners. We’re all made of dust.
The rest of the world can judge each other, but I’ll be using that muscle to improve myself.
Cameron Smedley lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, with his wife Jasmine and three children. He enjoys conversations about religion, politics, race, and democracy. He has a passion for social justice. Cameron also writes an online blog and hosts an online bible study called Coffee with Cam. You can always ask Cameron what book he currently is reading, as he loves to read and has a goal of reading one book a week.