(Excerpt from Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus: How the Jewish Words of Jesus Can Change Your Life by Lois Tverberg.)
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." Mt 7:1 NIV
Few sayings of Jesus have caused more frustration than his words about judging. From everything else Jesus taught, we know Jesus wasn't telling us just to turn a blind eye to sin. So we struggle to find a way to sort out sin without actually calling it that, so that we won't sin by judging. Or we just file this line in the "impossible" category, like "love your enemy" — it sounds great and preaches well, but it's well nigh impossible to actually live out.
But this teaching of Jesus grows much more applicable when we hear how it fits into the wider conversation going on among Jewish thinkers. From centuries before Jesus was born "judging" has been a topic of discussion, filtering down through the millennia to inform Jewish practice right up to today. Jesus was, in fact, building on some wise thinking and bringing it to a new level.
"Judging" in Jewish Thought
In about 120 BC, Yehoshua ben Perachia, one of the earliest rabbinic sages, shared the following wisdom: "Judge each person with the scales weighted in their favor." The saying evokes the imagery of the ancient marketplace, where a merchant measures out grain by pouring it into one pan of a hanging scale until it swings level with the weighted side. A friendly shopkeeper will heap a little extra on, letting the pans tilt past the balance point. The idea is that you should "weigh" the deeds of others on the side of generosity. Simply put, give others the benefit of the doubt…
Vintage balance scales in Spain. Image by L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez, more info in footer.
Jesus employed a similar metaphor about judging: "A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Luke 6:38). Jesus too says that we should let our scales of justice fall past the balance point, bestowing on others a little more than they deserve…
In almost every situation, a person can either look for a good or a bad motive behind other people's behavior. The way you choose to interpret others' motives has a profound effect on the way you react to them. Personally, I've found that when I make a habit of trying to "judge favorably," it transforms me into a kinder, more patient person. My attitude grows more loving when I assume the best instead of the worst about the people around me.
Jesus too says that we should let our scales of justice fall past the balance point, bestowing on others a little more than they deserve…
I'm still working on putting this into practice, but imagine the possibilities if I consistently looked at other people in the best possible light… When I heard someone insulting my faith, I might say, "That person must have had a bad experience with the church in order to make him feel that way."
Truly, this small practice can change your entire outlook on life.
Question: What's your gut reaction to Jesus' words about judging others favorably?
(A) It's not fair!
(B) Jesus wasn't talking about the jerk I'm dealing with…
(C) It's a sobering lesson.
(D) I can vouch that this brings joy.
Leave your thoughts in a comment on this post.
- Adam Forrest, Zondervan
(Images & some styling above are web-exclusive features not included in the text of Walking in the Dust… Image attribution: By L.Miguel Bugallo Sánchez. (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Lmbuga) [GFDL (www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], via Wikimedia Commons. This post does not represent the views of Zondervan or any of its representatives. The writer's personal opinions are shared only for information purposes. To receive new Zondervan Blog posts in your reader or email inbox, subscribe to Zondervan Blog.)