Here Comes the Judge

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To listen to this reflection as a podcast, click here.
Author and business executive Stephen R. Covey recounted a Sunday morning subway ride he took years ago in New York City.
“People were sitting quietly – some reading newspapers, some lost in thought, some resting with their eyes closed.  It was a calm, peaceful scene.”
Then a man stepped onto the subway with his young children.  The kids seemed unhinged.  They were loud.  They were throwing things.  They grabbed people’s newspapers.
Covey was amazed.  The father just sat there a few feet away, oblivious.  He did nothing. “It was difficult not to feel irritated,” Covey remembered. Why wouldn’t this man assume responsibility for what was happening?
Summoning what he felt was an unusual degree of patience and restraint, Covey finally turned to the man and said, “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people.  I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?”
With that, the man seemed to emerge from a fog.  “Oh, you’re right,” he said.  “I guess I should do something about it.”  Then he added: “We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago.  I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it, either.”
In that instant, everything changed. 
The man Covey had judged to be a slacker father was in truth a suffering father experiencing one of the worst days of his life. 
Covey, brimming with compassion, could only respond, “How can I help?”
There is a good reason why Jesus warns us not to judge other people (Matthew 7:1-2):  We never know the whole story.  On this side of heaven, we never can know the whole story.
Here we need to pause and affirm that normal life requires a seemingly unending series of judgments concerning other people. 
Who’s the best mechanic to fix your car’s water pump?  Who do you want babysitting your kids this weekend?  Who would be an ideal addition to your long-range planning team at work?  Who should be elected mayor in your hometown this November?  Which spiritual teacher is giving you the best counsel concerning your soul?
Such questions demand wise responses.  We will definitely have to make some judgments. 
So what are we supposed to do with Jesus’ teaching?
The best answer is to differentiate between discernment and hypocritical judgment.  The Bible commands the former.  Wise discernment should be a lifelong pursuit for everyone.
But if, with a critical spirit, we judge the habits, character, and motivations of other people – operating on the assumption that we know their whole story, and have a firm grasp of what is “appropriate” for every situation, and have no glaring defects in our own habits, character, or motivations, thank you very much – we will find ourselves sinking fast into spiritual quicksand.
There is, of course, someone who knows the whole story of every person you will meet today.  And your whole story, too.
That someone is God.
And God makes it pretty easy for us to know what to do when we find ourselves in the presence of other people who seem truly messed up.
Just love them.