The Gospel of Jesus and the Gospel of Ted Lasso share a common theme: judge not lest ye be judged.
I’m in love with Ted Lasso. Sure, the hit show streaming on Apple TV is excellent, but I’m talking about the guy. His “gospel” is based on eternal optimism. Ironically a contributing factor in his divorce, it would not be a problem for me. His big heart, boundless energy, and good-natured humor make my heart skip a beat. In an act of great tolerance, my husband gave me a sweatshirt for Christmas this year with one of Ted Lasso’s famous lines: “Be curious, not judgmental.”
I could do without the furry black mustache, but I’ll take his pithy wisdom every day of the week and twice on Sunday. I swoon.
A Common Thread
The gospel readings for the Fifth Sunday in Lent are pretty different, but all share a common theme – judgment. During Cycle A this Sunday, we hear John’s gospel foreshadow Jesus’ own fate through the story of him raising his friend Lazarus from death to new life. This was the last straw for the Pharisees and chief priests. Shortly after this reading, we learn that they convened the Sanhedrin, the council of religious and civil leaders in Palestine while under Roman rule. They landed on their judgment: “So from that day on, they planned to kill him” (11:53).
During Cycle B, the gospel reading comes from the next chapter of John, where Jesus acknowledges to his disciples that it’s showtime and he’s the tragic hero. “Now is the time of judgment on this world” (12:31).
The gospel reading during Cycle C comes from a few chapters prior and tells the story of the woman caught in adultery. During the gospel, the power brokers of the land plan to arrest Jesus and seek more evidence to support their case against him. So, they bring him a woman guilty of adultery. (And just where was her partner in crime? I digress.) They had to be delighted with their cleverness. The Law of Moses makes it clear that a woman guilty of adultery is to be executed. But he had been preaching a gospel of love and forgiveness. They had Jesus in the crosshairs; whichever judgment he made, he would run afoul of one legal system or another.
Sticks and Stones
After writing in the dirt on the ground, an act that has confounded scripture scholars for centuries, Jesus turns the tables on them with his famous line, “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (8:7). At that, the crowd slowly disperses. Jesus then asks her, “‘ Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?’ She replied, ‘No one, sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Neither do I condemn you.'” (10-11).
My goodness, one Sunday with enough judgment for at least a year. We’ve got the judgment of the Pharisees and chief priests against Jesus, God’s “judgment on the world” through Jesus’ impending death, the religious leaders’ judgment against the adulterous woman, and Jesus’ own refusal to judge her. Whew. I can hear the Law and Order theme music in the background.
The Gospel According to Lady Justice
Judgment is a significant theme throughout the Bible, Old and New Testaments both. I believe that the scriptures, while vehicles of ultimate truth, are products of the time and culture in which they are written. And the Israelites from well before Abraham and Moses through Jesus and Paul knew nothing if not political hardship – slavery, occupation, exile, and persecution galore. So, it makes sense that much of the way scripture writers describe the world relies on the language of political power – or the lack thereof. We tend to create God in our own image, which is why I think the God of the Old Testament is depicted as a loving yet jealous and vengeful judge.
Likewise, I believe that’s why the people of Jesus’ time anticipated a messiah who would lead them in overthrowing their Roman oppressors, not just fulfilling their religious aspirations. I also believe this colors Jesus’ own language. He teaches his disciples to pray by addressing God as “Our Father,” an image that was likely beautifully intimate at the time but which may seem myopically “human” and “male” today. Even more, Jesus’ description of living within God’s presence uses the language of power: the Kingdom of God and the Reign of God. If Jesus were alive today, I wonder if he might use a phrase more like “Community of God.”
Meaning and Metaphor
I cannot believe that there is a spirit being up in the heavens waiting to pass judgment on my post-Earth accommodations after death. No one is waiting to press the elevator button “up” for the pearly gates if I’ve been mostly good or “down” if not. Nothing in established science or my own experience of life leads me to believe this image is anything other than anthropological shorthand for something we lack the language to describe. But I do believe that such an image of God made sense to people for whom legal and political judgment was the very air they breathed.
If others find comfort in this black-robed, gavel-toting image of God, then more power to them. I can see the appeal. It gives us a black-and-white roadmap to celestial white clouds and harp music after the time clock expires. It makes our marching orders clear; just follow the rules, and angles will be handing out endless free drink tickets during the heavenly post-game show.
But simple and true are not the same thing. In my experience, truth is rarely black-and-white. And judgment divides more than it unites.
True, Not Simple
Now, don’t get me wrong. Judgment has its place! As an educator, I’ve spent my entire career helping young people develop “critical thinking skills.” Without sound judgments, we’d be dead most days before lunch. And every society needs sound jurisprudence and the professionals who make the judgments that uphold it. Without this, Hannibal Lecter could move in next door. Judgment isn’t a bad thing. It’s a very good, necessary thing when employed in the service of health, safety, and the common good. Less so when used as a weapon.
I think this is the point of the gospel readings for this Sunday in Lent. Elsewhere in the gospels, Jesus drives home the point: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
Although this year we are in Cycle A of the lectionary with Lazarus this week, I’m partial to the story from Cycle C with the woman caught in adultery. I have my own idea of what Jesus was writing in the dirt before his “you without sin cast the first stone” comment. He may have been quoting from the Gospel of Ted Lasso: “Be curious, not judgmental.”
Smart guy. Both of them.