Toward the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says to those gathered, “Judge not, that you not be judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it, will be measured to you.” He then goes on to illustrate this nugget of wisdom with the well known analogy of noticing the log in your own eye before taking the speck out of someone else’s eye.
I experienced a moment of grace a few weeks ago in which I relearned this important message. While on vacation, I was staying in a hotel near Richmond, VIrginia. I came down to the hotel lobby for their complimentary breakfast. Also getting breakfast was an attractive, well-dressed, young woman, probably in her early 20s. She seemed to be alone at first, but after a few minutes a young man arrived for breakfast as well. He was dressed in a tank top shirt, had many tattoos on his entire body, and was wearing a ball cap tilted to the side. I didn’t take much notice of him until he started talking to the young woman in a low mumble. They sat down together, and I thought to myself, ”she could certainly do better than him.” At that moment, he took off his cap, took both of her hands in his, and asked her to to say a blessing for the food they were about to eat. They both bowed their heads and prayed aloud together before they ate breakfast.
I was humbled and embarrassed that I had judged this young man based on his appearance and manner. And yet, don’t we all do this? Each of us makes some judgment, positive, negative, or neutral about everyone we encounter. Sometimes we may not even be conscious of it. As we learn in Matthew, we will also be judged, and maybe rightly so. We have to recognize our own issues, prejudices, and fears (the logs in our own eyes), before we can worry about the speck in our brothers’ or sisters’ eyes.
When we judge someone negatively, the first question we should ask ourselves is, “What is it about me and my experiences that brought me to this judgment?” Our concerns and prejudices say more about us than the person we are judging. The way to overcome this is removing the log from our own eyes first.
The next question we should ask ourselves is, “What if I’m wrong?” Chances are, unless you know someone very intimately, your judgments and preconceptions about them are at least partially wrong. How could they not be? The way to overcome this is to get to know someone better. If they are a stranger, as in my case, then that may or may not be possible. Either way, we should reserve judgment, assume goodwill, and afford each person the worth and dignity that they deserve. If we have judged someone we already know, then we don’t know them well enough, and should make the effort to better know them, which can only be done in direct relationship.
This is difficult work, but it is the essence of building a beloved community.