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Posts Tagged ‘the Sermon on the Mount’

Jo 17I had always thought I was not judgmental—until one night over twenty years ago when someone challenged me in a way I have never forgotten. I have written about this before but, at the risk of repeating myself, this is what happened.

For many years, we were part of a church in an area of Sydney where quite a number of marginalised people lived. As I walked out of the church office late one Sunday night, I glanced across at a youngish man seated nearby whom I knew from the area. He would often wander into our services in a half-drunk state and sit somewhere at the back. On one famous occasion, he even interrupted the sermon with the pithy statement ‘Pigs might fly!’!

On this particular night, however, he must have decided once again not to beat around the bush.

‘You don’t like me, do you?’ he challenged me out of the blue.

I denied it, but he simply sat there staring at me and grinning.

I could feel shame mounting inside me as I walked off. You see, what he had said was true. I did not like him—or, at least, I did not like his behaviour. Yet I had never bothered to find out anything about him as a person. Admittedly, he was often drunk and past communicating well with anyone most nights, but I had never cared about who he really was or why he had ended up living the way he did.

This salutary lesson has stayed with me ever since and, hopefully, prevented me from being too judgmental of others like this man. But in the past few months, I have learnt a lesson about a different kind of judgmentalism. I have learnt that not all children who look like they are behaving badly and being disobedient to their parents or teachers or carers may deliberately choose to do so. They may have ADHD or something similar. They may be overwhelmed by noise and unable to think clearly or respond well. They may not understand exactly what they were asked to do and be afraid of failing. The list goes on.

Recently, a phrase written by a leading expert in this area of childhood behaviour caught my attention. He talked about approaching such children with curiosity rather than judgmentalism—about taking time to explore their personalities and how their brains are wired rather than confronting their behaviour head-on in a legalistic way. Then it occurred to me how helpful it could be if we also showed a little grace and love and patience, along with that curiosity he mentions. Of course these children need to learn what is acceptable behaviour and what isn’t. But I see now there may well be better ways of helping them achieve this than my old, critical, judgmental approach.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had some straight words to say about judging others:

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. Matthew 7:1-2

Wow! I hope I can remember this warning well and be open to more changes in perspective, as God continues to help me grow in grace towards others.

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Jo 17Last week, I received a rather agonised email from a writer friend. She told me how, having decided to self-publish her latest book, she checked it through many times and enlisted others to help as well. However, after all that painstaking editing, she managed to send the wrong version off to the printer! By the time she realised her mistake, it was too late. That first print run was complete.

I did not have to try too hard to put myself in her shoes and empathise. I have never self-published, but I know what it feels like to have a publisher print one of my books, having added extra mistakes of his or her own, after I had signed off on the final version and agreed everything was just as I wanted it! I felt my friend’s pain and embarrassment. She was not looking forward to being judged as ignorant or less than thorough, particularly by her writing peers.

In recent weeks, however, I have found myself challenged in an even deeper way to walk in someone else’s shoes. At a friend’s suggestion, I decided to tackle a book of daily spiritual exercises entitled The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien. Part of this adventure involves reading the Gospels with all my senses and imagination at work and contemplating the life of Jesus in a fresh, up close and personal way. It involves letting the events of Jesus’ life be present to me right now, as best I can. And it involves allowing the Holy Spirit to touch my heart in the process, rather than merely gaining head knowledge about Jesus.

So far, I have contemplated the birth of Jesus as one of those bystanders in the stable. I have put myself in the shoes of Anna and Simeon at Jesus’ presentation in the temple and wondered what it must have been like for Joseph and Mary to flee to Egypt with their son. I have sensed their confusion when Jesus, as a young man, chooses to stay behind in the temple, asking the teachers questions. I have put myself in those scenes where Jesus calls his first disciples. I have tried to imagine how Jesus must have felt on hearing that affirming voice from heaven as he is baptised in the Jordan River and have asked my loving Father to speak those words into my own spirit. I have been deeply challenged, being with Jesus in that desert as he faces being tempted. I have listened with anger as he experiences rejection in his own home town. I put all my senses to work to picture the scene where a paralytic is lowered through the roof so Jesus can heal him. I heard the criticisms—but I also joined with others who praised God, saying ‘We have never seen anything like this!’ (Mark 2:12)

I’m up to the Sermon on the Mount now—and I can’t wait. I’m so much looking forward to journeying on with Jesus and listening to what the Spirit wants to say to me. I want my relationship with Jesus to be authentic, to be current, to be up close and personal. After all, it’s the best way to become more like him, don’t you think?

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