“Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
He also told them a parable: “Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Friend, let me take out the speck in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.”
Luke 6:37-42 (NRSV)
Brothers and sisters, welcome to the desert wilderness. Our Lenten journey leading to Holy Week and Easter is much more than a mere remembrance of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness, where he fasted and was tempted by the devil. There is great theological and spiritual significance to these temptation stories, but Lent is a time for us to enter into empty spaces, where we can take a good, long look at ourselves, undistracted by creature comforts. Today, few Christians fast through Lent, and perhaps this is a shame for us, because we do not experience deep hunger, want, and need; and so from our comfortable position, we spend less time thinking deeply with God, and we spend more time thinking about – and judging – others.
In Luke’s “sermon on the plain” version of Jesus’ teaching, the basic and essential qualities of compassion, honesty, forgiveness, mercy, grace, kindness and humility are emphasized. Believe me; time in the wilderness will cultivate these characteristics. Hubris, selfishness, contempt, judgement, accusation, hatred, and disdain are stripped away. Most of us cannot go a single day without food, comfortable temperatures, adequate shelter, rest, and companionship; we are too attached to the things that make us feel safe and secure. And we tend to look at others as adversaries, enemies, and competitors. We find danger and threat around every corner because it is what we look for and expect to find. “Those people” misbehave and make life unpleasant. In a world full of treacherous “thems,” it is very important to take good care of “us.”
But this is antithetical to the heart and soul of the gospel. “Judge not, lest ye be judged!” Lent is an excellent time for us to look closely in the mirror, identify the multitude of “specks” we carry in our own eyes, and to make a real and concerted effort to change in fundamental and meaningful ways. This isn’t about “you” or “them;” this is all about “I” and “us.” Where in our lives have we displaced faith in God with faith in something else? Where have we taken control (a false sense of control) away from God? Where do we proclaim “faith,” when in fact we mean something considerably less? What do we gain by judging others? What good do we do by saying nasty things or making fun of others? Our world will not improve by accusing others of being inadequate, sinful, or evil. Transformation must begin within each individual, in affective relationship with God’s own Holy Spirit.
So, during this Lenten journey, join me in serious and honest reflection around these questions:
- Where am I refusing to allow God to be Lord of my life?
- Where do I put my own wants, needs, and desires ahead of those of others?
- Where do I allow fear to govern my life instead of faith in God?
- Where do I follow my own sense of rights and entitlements instead of following the way of the cross of Jesus the Christ?
- Where do I forgive myself when I am unable or unwilling to forgive others?
- How has my relationship with Christ become self-serving rather than serving the Christ in others?
- What do I need to do next to give more of my life to God to become more Christlike?
In some forms, the word lent means “to become less rigid, to bend, to be flexible.” The period of Lent is a softening, a conditioning time. It makes us more malleable and open. A common meaning of the Hebrew concept of “repent” is “to change direction, to turn.” This period of repentance is a time to turn away from judging others and always looking for the wrong others commit, and to turn to the mirror for self-evaluation and honest reflection. The word “relent” means “to become less severe, less condemning; more compassionate, forgiving and kind.” Let us make this journey together this Lent – from rigid and hard to kind and loving. This, brothers and sisters, is the key to God’s miraculous transformation of the world!
Grace and Peace,
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung
Bishop Hee-Soo Jung has served as resident bishop of the Wisconsin Annual Conference since September of 2012. Prior to leading the Wisconsin Conference UMC, Bishop Jung served eight years as bishop of the Northern Illinois Conference (Chicago area).