In an old issue of Leadership Journal, Haddon Robinson retells the story of a very talented young musician who was crestfallen as he sat reading the critics’ reviews of his recent concert. The negative words stung his soul like fire. It was an older and more accomplished musician, the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius, who comforted the young man by patting him on the back and remarking, “Remember, son, there is no city in the world where they have erected a statue to a critic.”
Maybe that’s at least partly what Jesus was saying with his well-known words from what we know as the Sermon on the Mount: “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” (Matthew 7:1-3).
J. B. Phillips, in his paraphrase, just puts it this way: “Don’t criticize people, and you will not be criticized.”
That’s hard, isn’t it? But it says something we need to hear.
We’re all familiar with Jesus’ words, but we easily push them to the backs of our minds when we take up the role of critic. We allow ourselves to become the self-appointed judges of our neighbor next door or our co-worker on the job or the lady sitting on the other side of the pew. Criticism, you see, is the most common form of judging.
But Jesus makes fun of judges like us: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and fail to notice the 2 X 4 plank in your own?”
It’s one thing to offer kindly advice to someone we’re charged to teach or train (and someone who has also regularly received our genuine encouragement and affirmation): “I really appreciate the work that you do. Have you ever thought about how this particular part of your work could be more effective?”
It’s another to spend all of our time looking down our noses at others and appraising them with jaundiced eyes, quick to offer criticism, spoken aloud or not, but “donating” encouragement about as often as we donate kidneys.
The eye, Jesus says, is “the window of the body.” If I’m looking at the world through dark glasses, I shouldn’t be surprised if the whole world takes on a dark hue. It’s altogether too easy for me to become the self-appointed judge of everyone and everything around me. I sit up in the reviewing stand watching the world go by and writing down the marks I award to each person who parades by for my inspection. Without the benefit of a court or Presidential appointment, and certainly no divine mandate, I ascend to the cardboard bench of my own making and judge while the world goes by.
For most of us, judging ourselves should be task enough.
Copyright 2012 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.