He shall not judge by what his eyes see.Isaiah 11:3
I learned something this week.
A woman called the church looking for some help, because she and her sister needed a place to stay. She explained how they had a place lined up for the next night and for the future, and she just needed help that night. Could we put her up in a hotel? She had a place in mind, but it only accepted cash.
I spent hours trying to find a hotel that would accept a credit card for payment, and accept these women for the night, even though neither of them had any identification. None of the hotels were willing to take that risk.
I finally called a women’s shelter in town and asked if they had room for two women that evening. The response I received was, “It depends on the names of the two women.”
I learned that the woman who were looking to us for help had been barred from that shelter. I was told she is good at what she does and knows just what to say to get what she wants, and that now she was trying to manipulate me. I called the woman back and explained that we couldn’t help. She hung up the phone on me and moved on.
What’s interesting is that, even though I knew this woman was trying to take advantage of me, it was still very hard to say no and to send her away without helping her. I didn’t like thinking about her and her sister being left out in the cold.
Two days later I visited a couple members of our congregation in the hospital. As I was leaving the building and heading to my car, a gentleman came up to me and asked for my help. He explained how he and his wife needed a place to stay for the night.
They had a place lined up for the next night and for the future, and they just needed help that evening. Could we put them up in a hotel? His wife didn’t want to stay in the shelter without him, and neither of them had any identification.
Here’s what I learned: It was a lot easier to say no the second time I heard this story.
It’s good that we can learn from past experience how to recognize when we’re being manipulated, but we have to be very careful to guard our hearts. It would be easy to start assuming that everyone who seeks our help is trying to take advantage of us, but that’s just not the case.
We need to actively work to guard our hearts from becoming hardened to the needs of others, and from becoming cynical or judgmental based on someone’s appearance, their way of speech, or their story.
Why do we need to be so careful against hardening our hearts toward others? Because Jesus didn’t harden His heart toward us. All the readings for this coming Sunday, the Second Sunday of Advent, point to the theme of God’s heart remaining soft toward us, even in our sin.
In Isaiah 11:3, the prophet is talking about the promised Messiah, Jesus, when he says, “He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or… what his ears hear.”
Praise the Lord that He doesn’t judge us based on the things He sees us do or hears us say. If He did, we would be lost and left out in the cold forever. Instead, Jesus judges us based only on what He has done for us.
That’s what King Solomon is talking about in Psalm 72:2, when he looks forward to Jesus and says, “May he judge your people with righteousness.” Whose righteousness is Solomon talking about? Not ours, because we have none!
We are not judged according to our actions, our words, or our righteousness. Because of the price Jesus paid for us on the cross, it’s His righteousness that is now ours. We are judged by Christ’s righteousness, and we are declared ‘Not guilty.’
So let’s get back to my two friends from earlier this week. In Romans 15:7, Paul writes, “Welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” Because we are welcomed by Christ, we are called to welcome others.
When we have the opportunity and the means to help someone who is genuinely in need, we are called to do so. Our hearts, which were once so hard, have been softened by the Spirit, and we must not let them become hardened again.
After all, if we judged by appearance, we would have turned away the man Jesus called the greatest of the prophets, John the Baptist. Think about the way he looked, as described in Matthew 3:4. “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey.”
That doesn’t sound like someone a respectable person would invite over to dinner, does it? Maybe God wants us to be a little less concerned about being respectable, and more concerned about following John’s example and crying out in our wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord!” (Matthew 3:3).
Praise God that He judges us, not according to our righteousness, but according to Christ’s. May we guard our hearts from becoming hardened by judgmental attitudes toward others, and may we be His hands and feet of love in a suffering world.