Coming off the celebration of the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ, I'm still amazed that He came to this world and lived among us as a human being with the primary mission of dying for our sins and redeeming our eternal souls. Through His death, He saved us, but through His life, he taught us how to live our faith. Jesus did this both by his actions and through His teachings, the most famous of which is, perhaps, "The Sermon on the Mount," found in Matthew 5-7.
In this passage, a sermon delivered to a large crowd of people who had been drawn to Him, Jesus covered a myriad of topics about how His followers should live -- not as was common, but differently.
- The world says repay evil with evil, but Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek.
- Religious leaders of the time made a display of their prayers, charity, and fasting, but Jesus said to keep those things private.
- The world analyzes and criticizes our every move , but Jesus said, "judge not!" (Matthew 7:1-5)
Do Not Judge Others
In 2012, when I first felt called to jail ministry, I questioned how I could possibly minister to a population of women with whom I had so little in common. Or at least that is what I wanted to think. I have never had so much as a speeding ticket and my only run-in with the law was my elementary school D.A.R.E. program. How could I relate? How could I develop a relationship with addicts and criminals?
I was judging them. I was judging myself. I was comparing them to myself. And though I was using the same standard for both, I was using the wrong standard.
The point of Jesus' sermon was to illustrate what it means to live a life just like He lived -- perfect in the sight of God. The sermon also illustrates just how impossible that is for us because of our sinful nature. I was comparing myself to the incarcerated women based on our society's legal standard. By that standard, I believed myself to be much better than they.
But if I compare myself (and others) ONLY to the perfect standard modeled by Christ, I had to admit that I am exactly like those women. I am a sinner. Romans 3:23 reminds us, all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. "All," as in, "everyone, even me."
God convicted me that I am just like that cartoonish character described in Matthew 7:3, who attempts to remove a tiny splinter from another's eye, all while I have a giant log embedded in my own, blinding me to the reality of my situation.
When I started looking to the standard set by Jesus Christ and the standard He detailed in His sermon, I realized I have a lot more in common with every woman in the Hamilton County Jail than I do with Jesus Christ. The most common bond we share is that we all need a savior, not another judge.
When I admitted my own weaknesses, my own faults, and my own sinful nature, and accepted my dependence on grace, I realized I was in no position to judge others and it is not my place to do so. Later in the passage, vs 12, Jesus gives, "The Golden Rule," imploring us to treat others as we ourselves would like to be treated.
How do I want to be treated? Do I want to be met by others with criticism and harsh judgement? (And believe me, there is plenty to judge.) Or do I want to be met with grace and love? That's an easy one. And since I want to be treated with grace and love, that is exactly how I need to treat others -- even addicts and criminals. Especially addicts and criminals.
Does Jesus teach us to ignore the speck in the eye of a friend? Does Jesus instruct me to ignore the actions of the women to whom He has called me to minister? Not at all! I can acknowledge it, but I am not to judge.
If I ignore the chains of addiction that are dragging another person down, how can I help her realize that Jesus can break them? If I ignore the fact that women have chosen alcohol, or drugs, or ______, or _____, or whatever has control on their lives, how can I effectively help them learn that Jesus loves them and offers a better way?
In Matthew 7:5, Jesus explains, "First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend's eye."
He doesn't say, "then you can judge your friend," rather He says, "then you can deal with," it. And we deal with that speck the same way we deal with the log in our own eye -- through the grace afforded us through Jesus Christ.
It is in admitting our own sinful nature that we learn how to help others experience the same joy we have in Christ. It is in admitting our own faults that we come to realize we don't have the right to judge those of others. When we seek to help others, we can come from a position of loving humility, rather than from a place of proud judgement.
That is how we follow the "upside down" advice of Jesus Christ. That is how we live differently. That is how we can make a difference.