MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT
“The young couple was overjoyed with the gift.”
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.…Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
One of the significant blemishes on the Church today is judgmentalism toward those outside the Church. James makes a weighty point that should override the propensity of us Christians to make such judgments. Because we have been shown mercy, we of all people should in turn pass on that same mercy to everyone else. He points out that if we make distinctions by showing favoritism in loving our neighbors then we sin and become a lawbreaker. Making these kinds of judgments and distinctions is in violation of the royal law, loving your neighbor as yourself. In other words, if you close your heart to being merciful, then you close your heart to His mercy. The same door through which the mercy of God will come into your heart and life, rescuing and transforming you and enabling you to live by the royal law, is the door through which that mercy must flow out to others. But if you slam that door shut because you don’t like your neighbor, because of the way they live their lives or feel yourself to be morally superior to them, then you have slammed and locked the very door through which God’s mercy was longing to come to you as well. (A paraphrase from a sermon given by NT Wright at Central Presbyterian Church, New York City January 29, 2017.) Now that may sound very severe, but it is true. Please know that I have made judgments of people more times than I would like to admit, but I am grateful that the Lord has rescued me many times from this foolishness, because of His abounding mercy and grace.
One of my favorite stories is of an elderly couple. I don’t know their names, but their story certainly needs to be heard by us who are in the Church today. They had to grapple with this very issue of making judgments of a couple in their neighborhood. Let me tell their story.
An Elderly Couple’s Neighborhood
The elderly couple was a part of a thriving church that was beginning to encourage those in the congregation to go out into their own neighborhoods and to love their neighbors. The pastor had made this a practice in his own neighborhood for many years and he grew up with parents who modeled this. He now wanted the whole congregation to do the same. One Sunday, this couple decided to set out to love their neighbors.
They expressed their love in a variety of ways. They began by giving gifts to different neighbors; they came across a couple in their neighborhood who were living together and not married. At first, it created a bit of tension for them, but after some consideration they decided to demonstrate love towards them by giving them a nice gift like they did to all the other neighbors.
Sometime later the young couple became pregnant. When the mother delivered, the elderly couple this time had real reservations about giving them a baby gift for their newborn child. After working through their uncertainties, they decided the right thing to do was to give them a nice gift…the young couple was overjoyed with the thoughtful gift.
Now here’s the twist in the story. Sometime later, the older man had a stroke and he was paralyzed on half of his body. He was no longer able to do his normal chores around the house and wondered how to manage this dilemma. Guess who began to mow the lawn each week and care for their needs? You are right, it was this young father. Can you imagine what would have happened if they had passed over giving the young couple the gifts? I don’t know the rest of the story. However, I would imagine that the couples struck up a wonderful relationship and one thing led to another, because they chose mercy over judgment.
A time for reflection:
Being judgmental is so a part of our human nature, but it is not how Jesus lived His life while He lived among us. If anyone had a right to be judgmental it was Jesus, who lived a perfect life and is God. However, while on the cross His words, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” is a constant reminder to us in the Church that judgmentalism should not define us. We should be like Jesus, “full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) These were the qualities that attracted sinners to Him. Do these qualities characterize you when it comes to family, friends, and neighbors? If not, what would it take for the Holy Spirit to change this behavior? If yes, may your life continue to be an example to others of Jesus’s gracious life.