Ever seen that quirky BBC series, Sherlock? Yes? Good, now relax, I’m not here to squeak about Benedict Cumberbatch. I’m thinking of a scene in the episode “The Sign of Three”. Our favourite high-functioning sociopath (Sherlock Holmes, for those who haven’t seen it) is giving a best man speech at Dr. Watson’s wedding. Only, this being a murder mystery series, it’s not long before Sherlock discovers that there’s a murderer known as the Mayfly Man at the party. Mid-speech, Sherlock looks down at his audience and in his mind, white-lettered labels pop up above the heads of all the guests. First, looking for the murderer, they say “Mayfly Man?” Then, looking for a potential victim, they say “Target?”
Okay, so it’s a cool scene, but I’m not here to talk about scenes, either. I’m here to talk about judgment, and labels. And while we’re not all detectives looking for Mayfly Men and their victims, many of us have a habit of giving people labels. They’re seldom flattering.
“She’s so stuck up.”
“He doesn’t even know what he’s talking about.”
“You’re so paranoid.”
For people who live in a society where tolerance is everything, where freedom of speech and religious toleration are perceived to be the highest ideals to aspire to, we’re pretty intolerant.
For the children of the God who loved us enough to die for us, Who is love itself, we’re pretty judgmental.
Judging is so quick to stand in the way of love, to blind us to beauty. Jesus says that we need to quit telling everyone around us about the dust in their eyes when we have beams in ours (see Luke 6). No, those ain’t sunbeams, people: they’re big, heavy wooden beams, the type that holds up roofs. Exactly how much can we see past those things? Probably not a whole lot.
Of course not. When we judge somebody, we don’t see anything beautiful about them. When we reach the stop street where the beggar holds up his sign, we roll up the window. All we see is the sign and the dirt and the stubble. All we see is that label that hovers over his head: “Beggar”. Okay, so he’s a beggar. And if “Beggar” was the only label he had, who cares? That’s what he is. Not who, perhaps, but what.
But “Beggar” is not the only label we give that man. “Beggar” is not only a label, it’s a mindmap, with hundreds of real labels connected to it. Labels like “lazy”, “drugs”, “weak”, “inferior” surround him, and we are too busy concentrating on ourselves to give him a chance to prove otherwise. He’s just a beggar, after all. A stereotype cut out of society’s perceptions and our own past experiences. Why should we toss the guy a loaf of bread? It’s not like he’ll do anything in return. He might not even – gasp! – appreciate it!
Jesus died to save the men that killed Him just as much as he died for you and me and Paul of Tarsus. You and me and Paul might have appreciated – in as much as a human being can appreciate anything of Him – what He did, but how many people out there don’t appreciate a thing He ever did, and throw it back in His face? Probably plenty. How much do you think we can repay Him for what He did? Exactly nothing. But He did it anyway. He died for people who might hate him for the rest of their lives. Is it that hard to give a bread to a beggar or a smile to a colleague or, you know what, a hug to a family member? Jesus says, “Lend, hoping for nothing again” (Luke 6:35), and “If ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? for sinners also love those that love them” (Luke 6:32). Sometimes we’re pretty sucky at loving people who love us, let alone our enemies. Because we label them. Our vision is so clouded by judgment, so blocked by those beams in our eyes that we can’t see past the labels we give people.
So what do we do? How to get rid of that beam in our eyes? Jesus says, “Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye” (Luke 6:42). This might give you pause, because did you see what He did there? He just gave you a label: “Hypocrite”. This is because Jesus can judge. Yes, He may, because He knows everything about you and is perfectly pure and righteous and just, so of course He can judge you. His judgment is true, and He can judge you and love you at the same time – because He’s God. He can judge perfectly and love perfectly at the same time.
Human judgment is very nearly always wrong. “She’s stupid”, we say. Maybe she’s just tired, maybe she has a huge battle to fight that’s swallowed up every grain of energy and brainpower she has, and she just doesn’t have any left for school or work or whatever it is that we’re basing our judgment on. “He’s arrogant”, we say. Maybe he’s desperately insecure, hiding that insecurity behind a veil of overconfidence. Maybe he thinks “arrogant” is a better label than “vulnerable”. There aren’t always excuses for everyone, but when you stop judging and starting using the opposite of judgment, it doesn’t matter.
So what is the opposite and conqueror of judgment? Only one thing can cast out the beam: love. Oh, there’s innocence and ignorance as well, they can prevent you from labelling someone: but only love looks at a labelled person and says, “I know you are flawed. I know you too often get angry or drunk or high or self-righteous or arrogant. I know all these things and I still love you. I still think you’re beautiful.”
There is a difference between judging and observing with the intent of understanding. Observation says, “That girl is treating that guy so badly.”
Judgment says, “That girl treats the guy so badly. She’s such a terrible person. I’m not going to go near her, she doesn’t deserve my company. She’d probably hurt me anyways.”
An attempt to understand says, “That girl is treating that guy so badly. I wonder why she’s doing that. Maybe she’s having a really bad day. Or maybe she is just a hateful person. I’m going to find out.”
Love is better than all of those, because love says, “Wow! She’s treating him really badly. I wonder why she’s doing that. Maybe something’s hurting her, or maybe she just treats people that way. Either way, it’s not my place to say what’s up with her. I still like her anyway.”
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And when you love somebody, they are absolutely beautiful. Oh, sure, you know their flaws; if you love them properly you know them and seek to understand them, you want to know why they do these things and you understand their weaknesses as well as their strengths. But your vision isn’t clouded by judgment when you love them. You understand that they’re not always perfect. You know that sometimes their flaws run deep and dark. But you can still see that incredible radiance of their goodness, you can still revel in the amazingness of their strengths. You still love them and they are still beautiful. And that false human judgment cannot stand in the way of real love.
Judgment says, “You’re so paranoid.” Denial or fear of hurting someone says, “No, it’s fine, you’re not paranoid.” Love says, “You’re paranoid and you can change that, but either way, it’s okay. I still love you.”
That’s what Jesus is saying to us in Luke 6:42. “You’re a hypocrite and I want you to fix it. But it’s okay. I still love you.”
You see, even though when you love Jesus completely you strive to please Him, it doesn’t really matter what we do or leave undone. When our hearts are with Him, we are safe. Nothing we can ever do can make Him love us more or less. He already loves you as much as it is possible to be loved, and with God there is no impossible, so that is a very, very big amount of love.
This is real unconditional love. The love that says, “I know, but I still love you. I would still die for you. I can still see the beauty in you.” The opposite of judgment. The casting out of the beam. We have the perfect role model; let us let go of judgment, and love instead.
Lord, that we may love the way You love us. How beautiful a place our world would become.