Short Meditations in John 8: 15. Personal judgments
Jn 8:15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one.
Now we might think that there is a change of direction in Jesus’ teaching at this point because he seems to turn from talking about testimony and background to talking about judging people but if we look at the free flow of the paraphrased of the Message, we’ll see it clearer: “The Pharisees objected, “All we have is your word on this. We need more than this to go on.” Jesus replied, “You’re right that you only have my word. But you can depend on it being true. I know where I’ve come from and where I go next. You don’t know where I’m from or where I’m headed. You decide according to what you can see and touch. I don’t make judgments like that.” The judgments seen there are Jesus’ assessment which is made in the light of the full knowledge that he has of where he has come from.
He is going on to infer that any judgment that he does make is only in complete accord with the Father, but here he says something which is quite startling for us, the Christian community: “I pass judgment on no one.” Now perhaps we have to think about this word ‘judgment’ more fully. Synonyms are, ‘decisions, verdict, sentence.’ These are all final outcomes of assessment, i.e. the final ruling that we settle on. Now that makes it more interesting for it shows us Jesus saying, “I don’t arrive at final decisions over people, I don’t write them off.”
Now if that is so, and I believe it is, it comes as a challenge to the way we think about people. How often do we write them off? They are not just ‘not like us’, they are nasty, uncouth, (and lots more negative descriptions). We don’t want to know them. There is no hope for such people! But that isn’t Jesus’ assessment of them; there is always hope.
I have one particular memory, which I am sure I’ve probably used more than once in the past, but it was so pertinent that it must arise again now. This was a man in the office where I worked in my twenties, in many ways a guy with whom I got on very well. The only thing was that he came from a very different social background to me, and from a hard-line political outlook that was anti-God – and he made fun of me, until the day when God moved in on him and within the space of half an hour he was born again and transformed. Amazing!
Jesus challenged his opponents with, “You judge by human standards,” i.e. outward looks, outward attitudes, background, language etc. etc. but we should know better now: “The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Sam 16:7) There is another side to this coin but we will wait until the next verse to see it.
Application: Do I indeed assess people badly, making surface judgments about them or do I ask the Father to give me insights about who they could yet become?