Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment. John 7:24 NASB
Of the many topics addressed in this dialogue in John 7, the most notable is the Jews’ offense at Christ for healing a man by the pool of Bethsaida on the Sabbath (John 5). The offense was so severe in their mind it warranted death. Keeping the rules, all of them, had become such an obsession in Israel that they ceased considering the higher values of the kingdom. From God’s requirement to “rest” on the seventh day, flourished (in typical Jewish fashion) books of laws, rules, and traditions to define to the minutia what “rest” meant. (Grasping these rules could not have been an activity fit for the Sabbath!) One of those rules was about the load that they could lift and how heavy. When Jesus asked the man he healed to “take up his bed and walk” he crossed the line.
Today it seems utterly foolish that carrying a portable bed would be worthy of punishment, let alone death. Yet they had a grid from which they made their judgement. It was quick and easy: the Sabbath must be honored, carrying a bed dishonors. Jesus (and the man who did it) are guilty. Case closed.
When they confronted Christ, rather than sticking up a middle finger at them and walking away, Jesus made an appeal. He offered them an off-ramp from the freeway of their quick judgement — a road that that was not leading them where they needed to go. “What about circumcision?” It is work. It also is a law. When you have two laws that seem to conflict with each other, someone must make a distinction. The word “judge” from the Greek (krinō) and originally meant “separate.” Separating the grain from the chaff, thence, ‘to distinguish, to pick out, to be of opinion, to judge. The Jews distinguished the value of circumcision and weighed it with the competing value of rest on the Sabbath. The verdict? Circumcision does not violate the Sabbath. One value is not negated by another. Jesus’ appeal was clear: if circumcision didn’t violate the Sabbath, shouldn’t what I did in providing this man real rest be considered acceptable?
Without the cultural context of Israel in the time of Christ, today I instinctively value of health and well-being in the man Christ healed above arbitrary rules about work, particularly in light of the many years he had struggled with health. The healing was incredible! It was Spirit-directed. It was affirming. An expression of tender love and affection. And in every sense, it fulfilled the Sabbath. If the Sabbath was the avatar for rest, then health, as opposed to the constant struggle internally of dealing with a life-disabling disease, was more of a fulfillment of God’s intent than working to maintain the status quo of severe incapacitation. Mercy is better than judgment.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. Matthew 23:23 NASB
I am programmed to make quick judgments. It’s not a bad thing. I see dog poop, without thinking I step over it. When I see mold on food, I throw it out. If I see a car coming while I drive on a one-way street I immediately understand that one of us is going the wrong direction. Yet there are things I’ve learned, judgments I’ve made that have found their way into the “auto response” system in my life — even though they are wrong. Everyone has them. But what are they? How do I know what they are? When it comes to the things of God, I have a lifelong exposure to perspectives that may not align with the kingdom. I grew up as a Catholic. I became and evangelical Pentecostal. I sat under Bible teachers that taught with conviction, yet years later struggled with the very things they taught. None of these experiences are necessarily “bad” or “good.” I value and embrace my history. The Holy Spirit is able to take me from where I am today and lead me in a perfect way, in exactly the right timing. He is so good to me. Whether I grow up in America, in Orthodox Israel, in Hindu India, in radical Afghanistan or the dark corners of Africa, my Heavenly Father has a road map for me. But it may mean tinkering with my immediate judgments and reconsidering certain values — similar to how Jesus challenged his challengers. I love the way the Father frames this up for Christ and David in the Old Testament:
And He will delight in the fear of the LORD, And He will not judge by what His eyes see, Nor make a decision by what His ears hear. Isaiah 11:3 NASB
The LORD said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 NASB
When I consider the circumstances of the healing by the pool, the choice of the man (among the many that needed healing) and the timing (among the other six days of the week), and the method (not just “walk” but also, “pick up your bed”), I see that intentionality of the conflict the Holy Spirit precipitated. And then even with the prospect of death, Jesus marches directly into the middle of the lion’s den. What is this about? It’s about an opportunity. It’s like the Holy Spirit is saying “Stop!” Rethink the automatic judgments you have made. Listen to what you are saying! Consider the heart and love of God. Maybe you are wrong. Maybe you have made a hasty judgment. Add righteousness to it. Open your heart. Allow a new perspective to invade your thinking. Laws are good and important for the time being, but something else is more important. Are you willing to break from the status quo? Are you willing to step sideways from what everyone else is thinking even if you become the object of their scorn?”
I personally don’t ever want to be too introspective about my bad thinking or snap judgements. But I know I have them. And I deeply trust that when Jesus flags the issue for me, that he will also provide the grace to adjust. He picks the time, place, and method. It may come in the form of a conflict or something that makes me angry — he knows how to get my attention. Yet, I endeavor to have a heart that listens. And when he speaks to me, I can almost be certain it is about an entrenched way of thinking, a snap judgment, or a value that is superseding love. When I consider making any judgment of another, I can understand why Christ asks me to consider a better way:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. Matthew 7:1-2 NKJV