Pastor of Decatur United Methodist Church
One of my least favorite things to do is make the Walmart trip. It’s not that I mind shopping. It’s just something about Walmart. I know that the store is so big that I’m not going to be able to find what I need. I know that I will probably have to walk all the way across the store multiple times hunting for my list. And then, worst of all, I’m going to have to checkout. Now, on occasion, I get lucky and can swiftly make it through the 20 items or less line. But more than not, I find myself dreading checkout.
Walmart has 35 checkout lanes, and four of them are open. On top of that each line is staffed with one person who must scan and bag my groceries, which makes things go slower. And even more infuriating is that every line I get in is always the slowest line. It’s as if store management saw me coming, and staffed my line with slowest cashier and the neediest customers. The ones that insist that their checkout be divided in 5 different transactions. The ones that want a prices check on each piece of clothing and the milk. The ones who seem to super chatty and want linger in the line. The ones that want to ruin my day.
It’s as if they know that I have things I need or want to accomplish, and they are purposely trying to get in my way.
When I think about this, I also think about traffic. Now, if there is one thing I’ve noticed about Decatur, there isn’t much traffic. However, between my house and the church, there are plenty of opportunities for people to get in my way. If I go 58 hwy, I will get behind the slowest car or, with any real luck, behind a farm tractor. Or, if I go up i75, I know I will get stuck in construction or some other slow down. I know the reason they are all there is cause me harm. After all, I have something important to do; I have to get to the church or I have to get home. And there are people, who, I am sure, have gone out of their way to get in my way.
Does that hit home for anyone? When I think about people getting in my way, I almost always play this video clip in my mind from the opening scenes of the 1999 movie, Officespace. I don’t know if I have ever actually watched the whole movie, but I can definitely relate to opening credits.
-Take a look…
Surely everybody in the traffic jam is there to give him a rotten day.
Of course, when we step back we know this is not case. But when someone cuts us off in traffic, they are a jerk. When someone takes too long in line at the bank, they are needy or lazy. When you have to wait to see the doctor, they are trying to make you late. When you call India in trying to call the cable company, they are trained to be hard headed and have the sole mission in life to make life miserable for you back in America.
I think it is safe to say that we live most of our lives thinking about ourselves and what is most convenient for us. If someone gets in our way on this, we easily switch to judge and convict them in our minds for the way they have wronged us. We do this all the time. We constantly are judging strangers and evaluating them according to our measures of worthiness.
In a study published in the Journal of Neuroscience researchers found that our brains immediately determine another’s trustworthiness before we are able to process their whole face. Without even thinking about we judge others and put them in a box.
Jesus knew a thing or two about the way we judge others, and often think that we are the only ones that matter. Luke tells us a story of how Jesus was talking to a group of people that thought they were righteous and they looked down on everyone else in disgust. If you are honest with yourself, you see that he just described you when you’re sitting in traffic; or at least he described me while I’m sitting in traffic. Then Jesus tells them a story.
This is the way Luke describes what happens: (Luke 18:9-14)
9 Jesus told this parable to certain people who had convinced themselves that they were righteous and who looked on everyone else with disgust:10 “Two people went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed about himself with these words, ‘God, I thank you that I’m not like everyone else—crooks, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week. I give a tenth of everything I receive.’
So you have this Pharisee. This is a person who is committed to following the will and teachings of God. This is the person that gets in his car each morning and ready to drive to work and give an honest day’s work. And here he is thanking God for the blessings that he has been given and going through his routine of all the good he does. It’s as if he is the only righteous one sitting in traffic. It’s as if it’s you or I complaining about everyone else’s bad habits.
When you have to cut someone off in traffic you have a good reason, but when someone cuts you off, they are a jerk. That’s kind of the prayer I hear from this Pharisee. But of course, he’s not the only one praying. We also get to hear the prayer of tax collector. And tax collectors were labeled as the jerks of society. Nobody liked them, and often they did a lot of rotten to a lot of people. And now, Jesus tells us about the tax collector’s prayer in verse 13:
13 But the tax collector stood at a distance. He wouldn’t even lift his eyes to look toward heaven. Rather, he struck his chest and said, ‘God, show mercy to me, a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this person went down to his home justified rather than the Pharisee. All who lift themselves up will be brought low, and those who make themselves low will be lifted up.”
The Pharisee had no idea what was going on in the life of tax collector. He stood in the temple judging the other man, but no idea the pain the other man was in.
I used to collect memorable quotes, and I found this particular quote that spoke powerfully to what Jesus talks about. The internet attributes the quote to the actor, Will Smith—so, you know if it’s on the internet it must true. But it says, “Never underestimate the pain of a person, because in all honesty, everyone is struggling. Some people are better at hiding it than others.”
Wow- that’s powerful.
As you go through life, what is your default position? Do you automatically think someone is out to get you? When you are sitting in traffic and someone cuts in front of you do you start judging that person? Do you start complaining about how he or she is inconsiderate and is lacking some form of basic humanity? Be honest, do you do it? I’ll be honest, often I find myself doing this.
Or, are you able to identify with other people and think about things from their perspective? A friend of mine shared a story once about how he and his wife were driving down the interstate and someone cut them off. My friend immediately thought about how awful the other person was, but his wife said, maybe they rushing hospital because the woman is labor. His wife was able to not see herself as better than the other person, but instead was able try to give them the benefit of the doubt and to see things from their point of view.
Being able to identify with other people like this is really a gift. I am reminded of Superman in this. I was more of Batman guy growing up. There is something about Superman being an alien that gave him an unfair advantage, I’ve always preferred the resourcefulness of Bruce Wayne. I guess that’s besides the point. But Superman, amongst other things, had X-Ray vision. He could see through walls. There is a scene in the 1978 Superman movie where Superman gets on to Lois Lane for smoking a cigarette.
She complains and jokingly says something about lung cancer. Thinking the joke is literal, Superman uses his X-ray vision to look at her lungs—to examine them for cancer. He comments back to her, “not yet.” If there isn’t a lead planter or wall in the way, Superman can pretty much see through anything at a moment’s notice.
Could you imagine having an X-Ray vision that allowed you to see into people’s thoughts and hearts. I wonder what your X-ray vision would uncover when you are eating at a restaurant and the server seems to care less about refilling your drinks and bringing you your food. If you looked at her with your X-Ray vision, maybe you would discover that her mom just passed away and nobody has reached out to her. Maybe you would discover that the person who cut you off in traffic just got off the phone with her husband who told her he wants a divorce. Maybe you would discover that the cashier at Walmart is struggling with a life controlling addition.
If we had x-ray vision, we wouldn’t be caught like the Pharisee in the story Jesus tells. Complaining about those that have cut us off in traffic and bragging about our own goodness. Perhaps if we had this X-ray vision we would have more patience for people and would give people a break and the benefit of the doubt.
The problem is, even Superman couldn’t use his X-ray vision to examine people’s thoughts and intentions.
Though we don’t have x-ray vision, Jesus tells us that we should live as if we did. Many times in the New Testament we read that Jesus gives the command not to judge. In Matthew 7:1 we read that Jesus said, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” Jesus is telling us to live as if we had that x-ray vision and we see the pain going on in other people’s lives. Jesus is telling us to give others the benefit of the doubt. Jesus tells us to remember the guy who cut you off in traffic is human being just like you.
Think about the implications it would have for your life and for our community if you didn’t give into these snap judgements. I know that it would make me happier in my daily commute. It would make us more understanding of other people when they come asking for help. It would probably make us better people too because we are not trying to figure out the particular defects in our neighbor. It would help us understand our friends and our family better.
And this could have ripple effects in our community. Think, if you decide to begin giving people the benefit of the doubt what might happen. Maybe this act would spread to others. And more and more would begin living in such a generous way. You don’t have to be superman, you don’t have to be anyone special, I just encourage you to listen to Jesus, and give it a try.
Too see people as Jesus sees them—just other humans in need of love and compassion. May you see people that way. May I see people that way. May we see people that way.
Decatur United Methodist Church
Our hope is that these messages will be relevant in your life and encourage you in faith.