We all make snap judgments all the time. We have to. Otherwise, it would take all day to make it from bed to work. The other morning my alarm went off and I had to make a judgment call to push snooze or go exercise. Then looking outside and seeing the ice all over everything and 400 school closings there was another snap judgment to be made, work from the office or home. Then there was the snap judgment about what to eat for breakfast, one or two cups of coffee, what to wear, how early to leave for work, what to have for dinner. All of these are some of the quick judgment calls that need to be made before the day even begins.
However necessary it is to have these thoughtless judgments, is it necessary to judge people in the same manner? We often make snap judgments based purely upon the way someone dresses, how they greet people, how friendly they are, how shy they may be, what religion they practice, what ethnicity or race they are, where they have been raised, what family they are from, and simply how often they smile. But I question how often these judgments are accurate or how often they cause more harm than good. I question my own preconceived notions that may cause me to make snap judgments about people before really knowing them.
When I worked at Hartford Hospital, my mother read an article in the newspaper indicating that the hospital was in one of the most dangerous areas of Hartford, which was accurate. So I was told that I should never use the stairwells alone, ride in the elevator with a group of people, or work in the emergency room. My family, like many people from small towns, believed that the violence in cities meant that everyone who lived in those areas, who were poor, were either drug addicts or violent criminals. And some were, but many were just people who were living as best they could in poverty. They were generally good people when you got to know them. My family and I were proven to be mistaken in the snap judgment about individuals who live in poverty stricken areas. Yes a danger may exist but that does not mean, living and working in fear. Doing so often creates barriers between us and truly coming to know and learn from each other.
The Jewish Talmud says, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Act justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it”.Jesus reiterates what God has always wanted for his people. He wants us to approach one another with understanding, care, compassion, and love because we do not know the struggles each person has had to endure. We don’t truly understand the feelings each person might have and where they come from. We need to look at each person as a child of God deserving of love, as individuals who have strengths and weaknesses, having a unique perspective on faith, something that we ourselves might learn from.
With the beatitudes, or the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus recognizes these people who have been unjustly judged by society, individuals who have suffered because life has either been difficult or society made it worse. He recognized that they in many ways have had to learn a different relationship with God then what others have had to experience. They perhaps have learned how to depend on God more, how to trust in God more, how to search for God outside of their daily experiences. There is strength in that type of faith, a faith that is not dependent upon luck, skills, health, or prosperity.
Jesus was teaching his disciples and by extension us. He is teaching us to learn from the experiences of others. He is teaching us to set aside judgments that may be based in our own lack of knowledge, and to see people for who they are, children of God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote this from imprisonment in Nazi controlled Germany, “We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer”. Jesus preached it. The Talmud preached it. The prophets spoke about it. And the theologians of yesterday and today are still preaching it. Micah questioned the reasons for ritualistic worship, if the lives of the individuals were not lived in the light of God, in the love of God. So too today we are still being called to find new ways to live into this mission.
We are being called to renew our dedication to living justly and in the love of the Holy, living our lives with understanding, treating one another with respect and care. Sometimes taking the time to imagine what it would be like to live with each others struggles, humanizes people, melting away fears and judgments allowing us the opportunity to see everyone as equal children of God. It is not easy to do but we should always be searching for ways to live into these teachings.
Remember that God does not expect us to be flawless. He does not expect us to have a start date and an end date, but to set it as a standard for which we are continually striving. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”. So go out into the world ready to live mercifully, to live with honesty, with care, with compassion, with eyes wide open to the lessons of faith we can learn from all peoples everywhere. Let us be ready to work together in compassion and understanding, ready to dispel unjust judgments and fears and replace those feelings with compassion, respect, and peacefulness. This is how Christ calls his disciples to live. This is how God envisioned his children existing in this world. This is the ideal for which we should all be striving with each new day.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Letters and Papers from Prison.
 Matthew 5: 7-8, RSV.
(Based on Micah 6: 1-8 and Matthew 5: 1-12)