“Judge and Jury?”
Old Testament Scripture for today, I was reminded of an incident that happened quite a few years ago, when my son, Rich, was a teenager. Rich had let a friend take his car while Rich had to work. Rich was
having problems with the clutch and his friend was good at working on cars. After work, Rich picked up the car and almost made it home when the clutch broke. He walked the rest of the way and he and my husband went back to tow the car home. While they were hooking the car up to tow it, a police officer pulled up behind them and told them they were going to have to take the car to impound because it had been involved in criminal activity. Apparently this friend ran someone he didn’t like off the road with Rich’s car and this person was pressing charges. Fortunately for us, the officer knew that it was not Rich driving the car, but it was his car.
Instead of fixing the car, my son’s friend had used the car to get back at someone he was mad at and ended up breaking the clutch completely. Needless to say, I was angry. Rich had trusted this person to help him, not hurt him. It was going to cost Rich money he couldn’t afford and inconvenience him by the loss of the car. Not to mention the cost to get it out of impound. It was a hard lesson for Rich to learn and I was angry. I was even angry for my son, who I didn’t think was angry enough. For some reason, Rich was taking this very well. I thought he would be a lot angrier. He loved his car, and he loved his money. He didn’t part with it very often.
After I had paced for a while, expounding on all the negative things I could think of to say about his friend, Rich looked at me and said, “You know, mom, he is a really good mechanic.”
So, I stopped pacing. I was still angry, which was OK. But Rich had remembered something that I had forgotten. All his life I had told him, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” When I should have remembered that bit of advice, I had forgotten all about it.
Sometimes, try as we might, by logical reason, we will not always be able to avoid an immediate emotion. If someone cuts in front of us on the road, our instant reaction may be anger. There’s nothing wrong with anger at this point. But when we let the anger take over and we take its energy and direct it toward another person to hurt them, we move from a normal, healthy emotion to a destructive one. We all have angry thoughts, anger itself is not a bad thing. What we do with that anger is what can cause problems. If we let it consume us, we turn bitter and that bitterness eats away at us.
The whole tone of David’s eulogy for Saul reflects his forgiveness of Saul. The greatest need of a Christian is God’s forgiveness. A second need is forgiveness by fellow believers. When we withhold forgiveness from brothers and sisters in Christ, we deprive them of an essential ingredient for continued growth in Christ; the joy of Christian fellowship.
David has every reason to hate Saul, but David chose not to. Instead, he chose to look at the good Saul had done, and to ignore the times when Saul had attacked him, or said hurtful things about him, or tried to turn others against him. It takes courage to lay aside hatred and hurt and forgive someone, to respect the positive side of another person. David’s lament forbade negative discussions about Saul’s and Jonathan’s defeat and death. He encouraged other to do the same. He does not commend Saul for what he was not; David wrote of the victories and strengths of the regal father and son. Saul was an affectionate father, Jonathan was a dutiful son. They were dear to one another.
David also realized that whatever else he was, Saul was God’s chosen. The anointing oil of his God was upon him and for that reason he was to be honored, because God had honored him. David remembered we are all children of God. As such, we are created to to God’s work. God gives us all gifts, and we are called to see the potential in others and see the gifts God has given them, not what they do with those gifts. To see what God created humans for, not what those humans have done with their lives. This is not an easy thing to do; to look at someone through God’s eyes.
It would have been very easy for David to be unforgiving. Saul was dead, what difference would it have made. But David would have to live with the words he said for the rest of his life.
So why aren’t we all like David? Why don’t we treat one another as God instructs us to? Why do we love with conditions attached? What keeps us from forgiving, from being devoted to one another, from honoring one another? We judge. We’ve all judged. We’ve all applied labels to others. We all have. Let’s think about what we say and what we hear others say. For example: “So, you’re unemployed?” Translation: What a bum, probably sits home all day. “She’s an Episcopalian.” Translation: Must be a liberal. “I didn’t know you were divorced.” Translation: Must be immoral.
You may not agree with these, but they are just examples of things I have heard in the past. We’ve all used labels. We stick them on jars and folders so we will know what’s inside. We also stick them on people for the same reason. It’s easier to talk about a person than to help a person. It’s easier to debate than to befriend. It’s easier to discuss than to help. It’s easier to argue than to support. It’s easier to complain than to do something about the problem. And it’s easier to label than to love.
What I am saying is it is wrong to apply the label before examining the contents. We don’t want others labeling us before they get to know who we really are.
We all have a Saul in our lives, maybe even two or three. Someone who hunts us down and attacks. Maybe not physically or with the intent to kill, but it still feels like being attacked. Words behind our backs, wrongs done against our families, labels put on us before we’re even known. It would be nice to give them what they deserve, wouldn’t it? And it’s so much harder to remember that they, too, are a child of God.
You all must remember the Oklahoma bombing years ago. I remember watching the penalty phase of the trial. Timothy McVeigh went to the same school my children went to and some of the teachers had to go and testify for the defense. Testify for the Tim McVeigh they once knew. The one God intended him to be. The one who was kind, was a good student, helped others, and was good with children. Not the Tim McVeigh that took God’s potential for him and did what he wanted instead of what God wanted for him. I am sure it was hard for those teachers remembering what he once was and thinking about what he became.
Be careful when you judge. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t discern. It does mean we shouldn’t pass judgment. We’ve all judged. We’ve all labeled. We’ve all slammed down the gavel and proclaimed guilt before knowing all the facts. We need to go back to the book of John, chapter 9, verse
4 and understand what God wants us to do. “While it is daytime we must continue doing the work of the One who sent me.” What is the work? Accepting others. Loving before judging. Caring before condemning. Looking and listening before labeling. Remember, only God knows all the circumstances. Leave the judging to Him.