As Jesus hung on the cross, one of the things he did was ask God to forgive those who were mocking him. I would imagine that if I was going through the most physically and emotionally torturous time of my life, being mocked would not put me in a forgiving mood. But as I contemplated Jesus’s words, it led me to notice something about how He judged people (or didn’t) during His life.
I noticed that Jesus had a very different attitude toward those who “don’t know what they are doing” (common people and Gentiles) than He had toward those who had knowledge of scripture and of Jewish history (i.e. the Pharisees and the other religious leaders of the day).
I believe His actions were an example of how we should also treat others.
Much has been made about Christians being “judgmental” when people don’t act the way we think they should. Sometimes we get defensive about our tendency to do this. Aren’t we just trying to have some sort of standard? Surely Jesus doesn’t have an “anything goes” attitude toward people who are not following His ways? We can’t just let people do whatever they want, can we?
And in truth, Jesus didn’t just look the other way when he came across someone whose lifestyle didn’t match up to what the Bible and the law said was right. He obviously had a standard, a very high standard. He was the only one who could meet that standard, it was so high.
However, His attitude toward those he was trying to reach was quite different.
When Jesus says “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing,” He is not saying that they are excused since they didn’t know any better. What He is saying, is that the correct approach for those who “don’t know” Him is love and grace, not judgment and condemnation. People make much of Jesus calling people out for their sins, but look at who He called out. The Pharisees, the religious leaders. Those who should have known better! Not the lost who were seeking to know Him.
Jesus approached the lost with love and compassion, and we need to do the same. If we as churchgoing Christians are going to judge anyone for wrongdoing, it should be ourselves and our church leaders. Jesus made it very clear that we who know Him bear much responsibility for the things we do. And although I hope we are not holding slavishly to the letter of the law while completely missing the spirit of it, as the leaders in Jesus’s time did, I know that we do miss the mark sometimes. We are supposed to speak the truth in love, but sometimes we remember the truth and forget the love. Sometimes we don’t want to send the message that the behavior is okay, so we react negatively. Sometimes we avoid certain people or groups of people altogether because we aren’t sure how to treat them. Ignoring the situation doesn’t resolve it either.
As I get closer to Jesus, I am trying to take on his attitudes and ways. It is difficult for me. I am naturally quick to point out when someone is doing something I know is wrong. However, I truly feel that many people have not come to know Jesus personally because they can’t hear His voice over the voices of judgment that are much more quick to point out their failings than to tell them that Jesus loves them anyway. I need to keep working at reaching out to everyone the way Jesus would. As people approach Jesus and get to know Him, the Holy Spirit will convict them about things in their lives that need to change. Such conviction comes best from the Spirit anyway, not from us.
This post was also partly inspired by the following blog post:
I encourage you to read it as well, if this topic speaks to your heart.