There was one group of people that Jesus had a hard time accepting and for whom he had harsh words: religious people who scorned others who were “not as good as they were” (my words). They demanded that people live up to their standards, before they would accept them in any way. Words like “unclean” and actions like banning people from the synagogue underscore this attitude towards others.
This is an example of our human tendency to be judgmental and condemning of others, to define them by their failings (as we see it), and to demand that they change in order to be accepted. Jesus shows us a different way of relating through His interactions with the Samaritan woman at the well. Samaritans were despised by the Jews and evidently this woman was shunned by her own people, for she was alone at the well in the heat of the day. Normally, all the women would go to the well as a group early in the day, thus avoiding the heat and being safer together. Jesus ignored all of this and interacted with her, not condemning her for who she was or what she had done, but accepting her and loving her as a child of God. As a result of this, she grew to believe in Him and brought her village along with her.
The same thing happened with Zacchaeus: Jesus went to eat at his house with no conditions or questions, a sign in that culture of acceptance and identifying with someone. As a result of being loved and accepted this way, Zacchaeus completely changed, something the scribes and pharisees could not bring about with their condemning and ostracizing.
This is a strong message to us to overcome our human tendency to be judgmental and unaccepting, if the person does not meet our standards. Each person is a beloved child of God; we do not know their history or their intentions. If we are judgmental and dismissive, we are not acting as Jesus did. This is not about approving of something that is wrong, but rather not categorizing the person because of their beliefs and actions.
This means that our approach to loved ones, friends, or others who do not believe what we believe or whose actions are wrong (in our opinion) needs to be like Jesus’ approach to the Samaritan woman, not starting by pointing out their faults and telling them they need to change, but loving them as a beloved child of God. They can know we don’t approve of their actions, but that doesn’t mean we reject them.
This is difficult and sometimes it is not clear exactly how we should act toward someone, but the basic starting point has to be loving them and respecting them as a child of God. We should not be dismissing and isolating people. How am I doing with this challenge to all of us?
Church sign of the week: We were called to be witnesses, not lawyers or judges.