Some people believe that the Bible is no longer relevant. Relevance, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. If you read the words written in the Bible as simply words strung together in good sentence form, or if you take them sentence by sentence without understanding their history, the relevance could escape you. The Bible is written for us. It gives us history, encouragement, admonishment, strength, wisdom, and many words to live by. The “Good Book” has great relevance for today.
Matthew 7:1-2 tells us “Do not judge and criticize and condemn others, so that you may not be judged and criticized and condemned yourselves. For just as you judge and criticize and condemn others you will be judged and criticized and condemned, and in accordance with the measure you use to deal out to others, it will be dealt out against you.” The Amplified Bible
These verses don’t mean that everything anyone does is okay, or that you have to be okay with everything other people do. It means that when you judge (read: gossip) and criticize (read: put down) and condemn (read: enjoy seeing someone suffer), you are going to get this back in full force. You will be gossiped about, criticized harshly, and will likely suffer while some watches and enjoys your suffering. In today’s world, that might be said as “what goes around, comes around”; in other words, what you give out, you’ll get back.
When I am tempted to criticize someone, and I often am, I sincerely try to look through their eyes, walk in their shoes. I learned this lesson in a most humbling way. One early morning I was at the hospital for some routine blood work. It was nothing major, so, while I was waiting, instead of focusing on my upcoming date with the phlebotomist, I had plenty of time to people-watch. There was a young woman walking across the parking lot in some of the shortest shorts I had ever seen. Her shoes were flip flops, her top was skimpy and didn’t match her shorts and it looked like she hadn’t combed her hair. I smugly wondered if she had looked in the mirror before she left the house that morning. I forgot about the incident for a few days, but then, for some reason, decided to share my judgment of this woman with a good friend of mine. She looked at me for a minute, then said “I wonder why she was at the hospital so early? I hope she didn’t have a sick child in the middle of the night.”
I was humbled, ashamed, and felt condemned. While it came back to me in the same measure, it didn’t come back harshly, it came back gently from a dear friend; and that, sometimes, is worse than stringent admonishment.
Who do we judge? How do we judge? Each one of us is different. Who do you really hope you are never measured against? Recognizing who you really don’t want to dine with, rub elbows with, or even sit next to on a bus, reveals that we are making, not only judgments, but judgments based on appearances and our own prejudices.
Matthew 25:40 says about those who will enter the Kingdom of heaven: “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (NIV) That’s Jesus talking, and He’s talking about us and Him. Along with not judging, we are expected to do something kind for those less fortunate than us – and not just once in a lifetime. Whenever, and every time, we feed the hungry, give a drink of water to the thirsty, ensure that someone homeless has shelter and a bed, share our overflowing closets with those who have few clothes, visit the sick – perhaps those forgotten in nursing homes, or visit the prisoners jailed for many reasons, we are actually doing this very thing for Jesus Christ.
The best part, the most relevant part, of living these scriptures in our lives, is that our lives are always enriched – without fail. Refraining from judging others removes us from the “gossip pool.” We don’t need to choose sides – we simply choose not to participate.
But how do we feed the hungry when we don’t have much to spare? We volunteer to help at a food bank – even a couple of hours a week. Stop on the way home from work and serve dinner at the homeless shelter. How do we cloth those who have need? We donate some of our clothes to someplace that gives them away. We donate, not from what we were going to get rid of anyway, but from the “good stuff” – we all have more than we really need. A perfect place is a battered women’s shelter – they need clothes for the women, the children and teenagers of both sexes, too.
The way that I follow Jesus’ words “what you do for the least of these, you do for me” is to volunteer at the Salvation Army in my home town, which also happens to be my church. They are about the Lord’s business every minute of every day. Serving meals, sharing the building as an overnight shelter in the winter months, and distributing food to the hungry every day are just some of what they do for “the least of these.” Volunteering lets me give of myself, not from my wallet, but from my heart.
Instead of paying back for perceived or actual wrongs, paying kindness forward will indeed be living the “living word”.