Romans 2:1-11 – Against Criticism and Judgment

Some of you accuse others of doing wrong. But there is no excuse for what you do. When you judge others, you condemn yourselves, because you are guilty of doing the very same things. We know that God is right to judge everyone who behaves in this way. Do you really think God won’t punish you, when you behave exactly like the people you accuse? You surely don’t think much of God’s wonderful goodness or of his patience and willingness to put up with you. Don’t you know that the reason God is good to you is because he wants you to turn to him?

But you are stubborn and refuse to turn to God. So, you are making things even worse for yourselves on that day when he will show how angry he is and will judge the world with fairness. God will reward each of us for what we have done. He will give eternal life to everyone who has patiently done what is good in the hope of receiving glory, honor, and life that lasts forever. But he will show how angry and furious he can be with every selfish person who rejects the truth and wants to do evil. All who are wicked will be punished with trouble and suffering. It doesn’t matter if they are Jews or Gentiles. But all who do right will be rewarded with glory, honor, and peace, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. God doesn’t have any favorites! (Contemporary English Version)

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”

Carl Jung

Since it is the Christian season of Lent, the Revised Common Lectionary freights the readings with biblical sections about repentance. It can be a hard slog, this inner work we are called to do. Yet, it leads to the peaceable fruit of righteousness for those spiritual athletes who train their souls for the will of God.

One of the first lessons we learn in our desert journey through Lent is that judgment belongs to God, not us.

Claiming the moniker of self-appointed Judge will, ironically, get one judged. There is only one true Judge. And Judge Jesus renders decisions which are always right, just, and fair, with no favoritism, cronyism, or malice.

A critical spirit is an evil spirit. It vaults oneself over and above others who are viewed as inferior, unworthy of love and belonging. It is the very antithesis of Christ’s way of being in the world with others.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Rome, merely upheld the teaching of his Lord Jesus, who said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NRSV)

Although most people would affirm that showing favoritism is a bad thing, in practice we have a difficult time avoiding it – especially in polarizing times such as ours. Political mudslinging is (unfortunately) a time-honored American tradition. And so is religious judgmentalism.

Some of the most emotionally laden vitriol comes from folks who are so heavily entrenched in their religious convictions that they believe any deviation from their way of belief is worthy of scathing criticism.

People, however, do not change because someone criticizes or judges them. They experience transformation through basic divine and human kindness.

As a hospital chaplain in a behavioral health unit, I wholeheartedly affirm this to be true. Many patients have been told repeatedly by family or friends to stop their destructive behavior or thinking, get their lives together, move on, wake up, etc. – all with the condescending edge of criticizing judgment.

Yet, when someone takes notice, is curious about them, treats them like a fellow person, offers helpful encouragement, and a listening ear without trying to fix, souls become open to receiving the healing grace of love and truth.

God shows no partiality, and neither should we, period.

God is right, just, and fair in all dealings with everyone. The Lord judges according to divine standards of righteousness and mercy – no matter one’s race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or social standing. And it is all laced with the love and compassion of Christ.

Christians are not exempt or given a pass on being judgmental, as if owning multiple Bibles or giving lots of money exempts one from a wagging tongue and an insensitive spirit.

Our own unhealthy practices, bad habits, and angry outbursts will be treated just like any non-Christian by God. In a time when decrying the moral condition of our world is nearly a spectator sport, the New Testament lesson for today reminds us that we must first be concerned for the condition of our own hearts before we can point the finger at another.

If we want revival in the land and repentance from others, then it must first be directed and practiced by oneself.

We all equally stand in need of God’s grace in Jesus.  There is a symbiotic relationship between our actions and the state of our hearts.  A soft and tender heart toward God leads to obedience; disobedience hardens the heart and leads to God’s wrath, no matter the individual.

So, it will help if we all faithfully engage in daily spiritual practices which keep our hearts attentive and alert to God’s will and way. 

No matter how busy we are, or how we feel, to forego or ignore the Word of God and prayer on a regular basis will slowly calcify our hearts and render them unable to respond rightly to grace. Instead, we can drink deeply of the gospel throughout every day so that we may experience peace.

A critical spirit begins to melt away when the tools of empathy, compassion, understanding, and acceptance are used to forge connections and provide support.

It takes no training to bludgeon someone with condemning criticism. However, it takes repeated practice to speak and act with grace, mercy, and peace, especially when we are stressed and/or anxious about our surrounding circumstances.

“Be curious, not judgmental.”

Walt Whitman

Instead of judgment, observe and be curious. Seek more information. Ask clarifying questions. Expand the gap between observation and conclusion.

The ability to have an awareness of one’s own emotions, to be mindful of self and surroundings, and to do it all with neither criticism nor judgment is perhaps the highest form of intelligence and spirituality.

Kindness is what leads others to repentance, not condemnation. Grace has the final word, not judgment. So, let us be blessed through a gentle spirit which spreads the goodness of God throughout the world.

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, we have sinned against you, through our own fault, in thought, and word, and deed, and in what we have left undone. For the sake of your Son, our Lord, Jesus Christ, forgive us all our offenses and grant that we may serve you in newness of life, to the glory of your Name. Amen.

Luke 11:14-23 – If You’re Not For Him, You’re Against Him

The Plundering of Hell by Jesus, Lincoln Cathedral, England

Jesus was driving out a demon that could not talk; and when the demon went out, the man began to talk. The crowds were amazed, but some of the people said, “It is Beelzebul, the chief of the demons, who gives him the power to drive them out.”

Others wanted to trap Jesus, so they asked him to perform a miracle to show that God approved of him. But Jesus knew what they were thinking, so he said to them, “Any country that divides itself into groups which fight each other will not last very long; a family divided against itself falls apart. So, if Satan’s kingdom has groups fighting each other, how can it last? You say that I drive out demons because Beelzebul gives me the power to do so. If this is how I drive them out, how do your followers drive them out? Your own followers prove that you are wrong! No, it is rather by means of God’s power that I drive out demons, and this proves that the Kingdom of God has already come to you.

“When a strong man, with all his weapons ready, guards his own house, all his belongings are safe. But when a stronger man attacks him and defeats him, he carries away all the weapons the owner was depending on and divides up what he stole.

“Anyone who is not for me is really against me; anyone who does not help me gather is really scattering. (Good News Translation)

Watching the Green Bay Packers on television does not make one a professional football player. Voting in an election doesn’t make somebody a politician. Paddling around on a lake does not make anyone a duck. And just as sitting in a garage doesn’t make someone a car, so sitting in a church worship service does not make someone a Christian. 

Responding to criticism about casting out demons, Jesus summarized his actions and the actions of others by saying that whoever is not with Jesus is against him, and whoever does not gather with Jesus, scatters.

Jesus was all about the kingdom of God breaking-in to this mixed-up fallen world and giving it a thorough transformation. So, that meant Jesus was going to push back hard on the kingdom of darkness. 

Participating with Jesus in his kingdom enterprise is a watershed test of whether someone is genuinely following God, or not. There are a million armchair quarterbacks who will freely give their advice and opinion about how things should have gone and what those playing on the field ought to be doing. Jesus was, and still is, calling people out to get off their butts and follow him. To merely watch him is to be against him, not for him.

Faith is not a checklist of beliefs to affirm and mark off. Rather, believing in Jesus is a dynamic participation with him in his great kingdom influence for the world. Christ calls us to leave the critical spirit, haughty attitude, and selfish expectations in the bleachers. We are to get on the playing field. To simply have our hands in our pockets is to actually work against Jesus. 

Are you willing to gather with Jesus? How does God want to you to serve? Are you only a fan of Jesus? Do you play armchair preacher on Monday morning? 

God is presently working to bring all things under the authority of Jesus Christ, the rightful ruler of the universe. Unlike so many present kingdoms of darkness on this planet, Christ’s reign is a kingdom of light, bringing benevolent grace to all.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:15-20, NLT)

The kingdom of God has come upon us. Let us follow Jesus and participate in the renewal of the world so that truth, kindness, grace, mercy, goodness, and peace will shine.

Mighty God, Jesus is the strong man who has bound Satan and is ushering in a new kingdom. Let me be a part of what you are doing in this world so that my faith is confirmed, strengthened, and used for your gracious and benevolent purposes, through the power of your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Luke 7:31-35 – Dealing with the Dull and Foolish

Jesus went on to say, “To what, then, can I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
    and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
    and you did not cry.’

For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children.” (New International Version)

I am sure all of us, at some point in our lives, have been in a no-win type of situation. Even Jesus experienced it. 

John the Baptist came as an ascetic, eating no bread and being a teetotaler. Some people thought he had a demon. Then, when Jesus came on the scene doing just the opposite – eating, drinking, and having a grand old time – the people accused him of being a drunkard and a glutton. 

Jesus was like the Rodney Dangerfield of the ancient world – he never got any respect from the religious authorities.

I’m actually a bit relieved that Jesus went through that kind of scenario. Sometimes, it just seems that, with some people, they’ll grump and complain at us, no matter what we do or say. Wise King Solomon was familiar with such people; he called them fools: 

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5, NIV) 

So, which is it? How do I handle a fool? The answer is: you don’t. A fool is going to be a fool no matter what you do or say. Handling them is a no-win situation.

It seems to me the way Jesus responded to the foolish around him was to express something of a lament. The saying he quoted has to do with weddings and funerals. Jesus was lamenting that the crowd standing right in front of him, seeing him and seeing his works, are like people who don’t dance at weddings, and don’t cry at funerals. 

In other words, they are plain dull and stupid. They have Jesus right in front of their faces, and they don’t see him because they are expecting someone else. The people just cannot get over the fact that Jesus hangs out with people other than them.

Jesus was likening the religious authorities to a bunch of bratty little kids. They sit and do nothing but heckle and bully others walking by, while they idly wait for their idea of Messiah to come waltzing along.

Messiah did come along. And they foolishly and dully missed it, and treated Jesus like any other Joe Schmo.

So, what do we do with such irritating and obnoxious people, like those who were never happy with Jesus? 

Well, frankly, Jesus just went about his mission – despite what the foolish generation was saying about him. 

And we must do the same. Some folks are going to backbite, gossip, slander, misunderstand and misrepresent you – and there’s not a dang thing you can do about it. We are not to take our cues from fools. We are to find our security and our solace in Jesus. We are to focus on living and loving, just like him.

And, as for the self-appointed critics and judges among us, let them blow their empty words out their blowholes into the air. The wise don’t have time to engage such blowhards. Leave them to God.

Wise Jesus, you handled people as well as anyone could, yet they still criticized you. Help me to live a sage life, and speak with circumspection, so that when irrational people talk their sinful jabbering, it isn’t because of my foolishness, but because of my love. Amen.

Romans 2:1-11 – Connection, not Criticism

Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind. (The Message)

Claiming the moniker of self-appointed Judge will only get you, well, judged! There is only one true Judge. And Judge Jesus renders decisions which are always right, just, and fair, with no favoritism, cronyism, or malice.

A critical spirit is an evil spirit. It vaults oneself over and above others who are viewed as inferior, unworthy of love and belonging. It is the very antithesis of Christ’s way of being in the world with others.

The Apostle Paul, writing to the Church at Rome, merely upheld the teaching of his Lord Jesus, who said:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make, you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.” (Matthew 7:1-2, NRSV)

Although most people would affirm that showing favoritism is a bad thing, in practice we have a difficult time avoiding it – especially in polarizing times such as ours. Political mudslinging is (unfortunately) a time-honored American tradition. And so is religious judgmentalism.

Some of the most emotionally laden vitriol comes from folks who are so heavily entrenched in their religious convictions that they believe any deviation from their way of belief is worthy of scathing criticism.

People, however, do not change because someone criticizes or judges them. They experience transformation through basic divine and human kindness.

As a hospital chaplain in a behavioral health unit, I wholeheartedly affirm this to be true. Many patients have been told repeatedly by family or friends to stop their destructive behavior or thinking, get their lives together, move on, wake up, etc. – all with the condescending edge of criticizing judgment.

Yet, when someone takes notice, is curious about them, treats them like a fellow person, offers helpful encouragement, and a listening ear without trying to fix, souls become open to receiving the healing grace of love and truth.

God shows no partiality, and neither should we, period.

God is right, just, and fair in all dealings with everyone. The Lord judges according to divine standards of righteousness and mercy – no matter one’s race, ethnicity, gender, economic status, or social standing. And it is all laced with the love and compassion of Christ.

Christians are not exempt or given a pass on being judgmental, as if owning multiple Bibles or giving lots of money exempts one from a wagging tongue and an insensitive spirit.

Our own unhealthy practices, bad habits, and angry outbursts will be treated just like any non-Christian by God. In a time when decrying the moral condition of our world is nearly a spectator sport, the New Testament lesson for today reminds us that we must first be concerned for the condition of our own hearts before we can point the finger at another.

We all equally stand in need of God’s grace in Jesus.  There is a symbiotic relationship between our actions and the state of our hearts.  A soft and tender heart toward God leads to obedience; disobedience hardens the heart and leads to God’s wrath, no matter the individual.

So, it will help if we all faithfully engage in daily spiritual practices which keep our hearts attentive and alert to God’s will and way. 

No matter how busy we are, or how we feel, to forego or ignore the Word of God and prayer on a regular basis will slowly calcify our hearts and render them unable to respond rightly to grace. Instead, we can drink deeply of the gospel throughout every day so that we may experience peace.

A critical spirit begins to melt away when the tools of empathy, compassion, understanding, and acceptance are used to forge connections and provide support.

It takes little to no practice to bludgeon someone with condemning criticism. However, it takes repeated practice to speak and act with grace, mercy, and peace, especially when we are stressed and/or anxious about our surrounding circumstances.

Instead of judgment, observe and be curious. Seek more information. Ask clarifying questions. Expand the gap between observation and conclusion.

The ability to have an awareness of one’s own emotions, to be mindful of self and surroundings, and to do it all with neither criticism nor judgment is perhaps the highest form of intelligence and spirituality.

It is kindness which leads others to repentance, not condemnation. Grace has the final word, not judgment. So, let us be blessed through a gentle spirit which spreads the goodness of God throughout the world.

O God, thank you for the gift of prayer and the grace of your Word.  May it seep deep down into my heart so that I am compassionate and kind, just like Jesus.  Amen.