To Kill a Mockingbird, arguably one of the greatest American novels ever written, has many teachable moments. One which has always moved me — and has challenged me to live differently — occurs when Atticus Finch tells his daughter Scout not to judge others. She had criticized a neighbor who hid away from the world. Atticus tells her not to judge Arthur "Boo" Radley because she has never walked in his shoes or experienced life from his perspective. Only when Scout makes a personal connection with Arthur — and views the neighborhood in which she has lived her whole life from his perspective — does she understand what her father is teaching her. Standing on Arthur's porch and seeing her own home through Arthur's eyes gives her a new point of view about Arthur and about life in general.
I often wonder why we humans are so quick to judge each other, often assuming the worst. If I had the chance to change just one thing about my sixteen years as a high school religion teacher, I would embrace this theory more often: sometimes the dog really does eat the homework! I have too often caught myself ascribing bad or mean or cruel motives to people, when they actually were acting out of fear or uncertainty or even love. I failed to look at life from their point of view.
How often do we make judgments about other people, only to find that our assumptions were wrong? Jesus always managed to see the good in the people he encountered. As a result, they began to see themselves as capable of goodness. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus challenged his followers to leave the judging to God. He 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. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. (Matt. 7:1-5)
I think it's important to see the humor in this message. Jesus invites us to picture ourselves getting excited about someone with a tiny speck in his or her eye while a log is hanging out of our own eye. He wants us to see how ridiculous our judgments of others really are! He urges us to assume the best about others. And he teaches us that the self-fulfillment prophecy holds true more often than not.
In the end, our world would be a better place if we didn't judge each other. We would have more trust, more hope, and definitely more peace if we left the judging to God. In the title song from his Power of Peace CD, Jesse Manibusan sings of the promise of peace which comes when people overcome their suspicions and prejudices. He proclaims:
We've got the power of peace, in every word, in every deed! We've got the power of peace!
The Church, the Temple, the Mosque and everywhere! Two or three are gathered, power of peace is growing there!
Discrimination, prejudice is on the rise, Heritage of hatred. Will we ever realize?
Indoctrinated by the Economic Creed, Peace is a prisoner, waits for us to set her free!
Let us pray that we can leave the judging to God and see the best in each other:
God, help me to see the grace in others. Help me to look at life through your eyes. Give me your Son's faith in the goodness of each person. And help me to leave the judging to you. Amen!
"God in Our Midst," a moving article by Richard Rohr, O.F.M., on God's unconditional and non-judgmental love for us.
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