The sharp dressed man. Every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man. They crop up all over the place, even at church. In fact when it comes to church, most of us make some effort to scrub up. We might pull on a fresh shirt, a clean pair of pants and drag a brush through our hair. The scruffy t-shirt and dirty jeans get put in the wash basket and left at home. It’s nice to feel smart, and be around smartly dressed people.
Let’s pretend. Imagine, you walk into church, on time (just this once, even comfortably early), and you are able to get to sit more-or-less where you like. In walks the scruffy guy. A little dishevelled. The t-shirt has seen better days and the faded army pants could do with a freshen up. The guy looks a little tired and probably hasn’t being sleeping well. To be honest, it’s probably actually me. “Oh no, Sarah, look, Paul has fallen off the wagon .. again.”, you whisper to your wife. The stress and arguments of trying to find your shirt (“It’s where you left it!!”), “Why isn’t ironed?” (“What am I? Personal valet!?”), “Where are the car keys?”, “Was the dog fed yet and where are the kids?”, all these fade into the background as you worry about Paul and his apparent back-sliding.
The camera pulls back to show Paul being approach by another church member with a warm smile, who is equally happy to forget his own problems. “Paul, is everything okay? Have you … stumbled .. brother? How is your walk with the Lord?”
I don’t really get out much. So when I say I’ve met a couple of people in as many weeks sharing similar stories, it means “nearly everyone”. And it breaks my heart. It breaks my heart that somehow, by looking at someone who outwardly seems to be going through a rough patch, we judge that they are in a worse spiritual state than we are. We who seem, on the outside at least, to have it all together.
Jesus hates hypocrisy. He hates my hypocrisy of thinking I can blog about things I barely understand, when there is much I can do to fix up in my own life. He hates the hypocrisy of the church which reaches out to the broken outside of the church, but ignores the broken on the inside. He hates the hypocrisy of his followers who see another’s external symptoms of brokenness and judge them for it whilst ignoring their own hidden shortcomings. Sometimes we are not much more than a white washed tomb.
Whilst I was listening to a friend sharing how one of his recent visits to church had gone, he asked why it happened like this. The thought popped into my head, that .. “You make them ‘feel’ better.”.
Jesus told this story once. He used the image of a Pharisee and a Tax collector in a temple. The Pharisee proudly listed all his good deeds and used the tax collector as an example to puff up his own self-worth even more. The tax collector couldn’t even bear to lift his face towards heaven, but rather sobbed out his confession and went home. Jesus concluded that it was the tax collector who was in right standing with God when he left for home, and not the proud church-guy.
Having sympathy for those having a bad time is completely fine, and is to be welcomed and encouraged whenever, where ever and by whoever. But heaving a sigh of relief and being thankful that we are better than them is a risky thing to do.
Once upon a time, when God had sent a prophet to track down a boy who was to become a king, the prophet pretty much nailed it on the first try. He found the tiny village in the middle of nowhere. He even found the right family. The lads were strong strapping lads, good looking. Farming stock. The prophet was certain one of these fine young men was the one God has chosen to be king, but as the prophet met each one he felt God saying,
“Nope. Not this one. [You*] People judge others by what they look like, but I judge people by what is in their hearts.”
Finally David, the youngest son was fetched in from the fields. He was so overlooked in the family that they were ready to serve dinner to the prophet without him being there. When David arrived, God said to the prophet, “This is the one.”.
So often we only pay attention to how someone looks. It happened to me once and I nearly didn’t get a job because of it. When Isaiah described Jesus, he foretold that this suffering servant would have nothing majestic about him. No beauty which would draw us to him. Looking at someone’s outward appearance, therefore, is not the best thing we can do. When we look at someone with only our eyes, there is often too much of us in the way to see them clearly.
Jesus once told about a couple of blokes. I picture them as builders. Allow me some poetic license (borrowed from ‘The Miracle Maker’). One of them has a splinter in his eye. His oh-so-helpful friend is carrying some bricks and starts shouting out helpful advice and gesturing about what his friend should do. In his ‘helpfulness’ he stops paying attention, head-butts a plank and gives himself a black eye. Jesus point was “take the plank out of your own eye, before trying to take the splinter from another’s”. More bluntly, sort out your own 5h1T before assuming you are of any help to someone else.
So what do we do? Fix ourselves up before we help anyone else? Get all our ducks in a row? Polish the halo? It’s a tempting idea. By all means, we should take the plank out of our own eye before trying to take the splinter from our friend’s eye. Yet, also remain aware that we will never be perfect in this life. Be aware of our issues and struggles and work hard to overcome them, but don’t stop trying to do good in the mean time.
So, do good, care for others, be concerned for their well-being, but when you do, do it in the knowledge that sometimes Christ’s followers can often be merely beggars showing other beggars where there is food.
* added by me.