I judge. In particular, I judge rich people. I suspect that if I didn’t know you, and you pulled up in front of my house driving a Mercedes SUV, I would make some assumptions about you.
I often assume that wealthy people are entitled and materialistic. I assume they’re greedy and don’t give enough to charity. Brad reminds me from time to time that rich people are not bad people simply because they are rich. Look at Bill Gates, he says. Bill Gates is hugely rich, but he also gives millions of dollars to charity.
True. So okay, Bill Gates is a decent rich guy.
The fact is, I make assumptions about wealthy people without even knowing them. I judge them based on the simple fact that they are rich. I realize this is grossly unfair and wrong. Irrational, even. And truthfully, I am getting better about it. Frankly, you can’t read about Jesus and the Pharisees and love and grace and still persist in irrationally judging people; it doesn’t work well. But still, it happens from time to time, almost before I realize I’m doing it. I judge rich people out of habit.
I thought about all this yesterday when we read the story of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus, the text notes, was the head tax man and quite rich. As my pastor pointed out, this was like saying Zacchaeus was a sinner and a sinner. Saying he was a tax man and rich was redundant, and the immediate implication was that he was bad, bad man – deceptive, corrupt, despicable. Thus, when Jesus invited himself over to Zacchaeus’ place for dinner, the crowd was indignant. “What business does he have getting cozy with this crook?” (Luke 19:8, Msg.) They assumed, because he was a tax collector and rich, that Zacchaeus was a bad person, a sinner.
And they were wrong.
Turns out, Zacchaeus was actually a fairly upstanding citizen. “Master,” he said to Jesus, “I give away half my income to the poor – and if I’m caught cheating, I pay four times the damages.” (Luke 19:9, Msg). Though wealthy, Zacchaeus gave a substantial amount to the needy. And when he did err, when he did sin, he repented by paying the wronged person back four times what he owed them.
In the end, Zacchaeus wasn’t who the crowd assumed he was.
When Jesus looked at Zacchaeus, he looked past his job title and status. He didn’t make a split-second judgment based on two simple facts. The crowd, on the other hand, judged Zacchaeus without knowing him. They couldn’t see beyond his wealth and his occupation.
They couldn’t see him as a person. They saw a tax collector, a rich man, and they assumed he was a crook.
I admit, yesterday’s lesson was a hard one. I’m thinking about the judgments I make every day, not only about rich people, but about others as well. It’s ugly stuff. It makes me squirm in my seat and rub my nose too vigorously. It makes me nervous and uncomfortable to admit this about myself. But it’s good, too, kind of like vaccinations are good. They hurt, they’re uncomfortable, but they are important and necessary.
So here are some questions for you to think about this week (and believe me, I’m thinking about them, too):
What assumptions do you make about certain groups of people, people you don’t really know?
Who do you judge irrationally, unfairly, based on very little information?
And how can you see those people differently, not as one-dimensional, but as real people, seen and loved by Jesus himself?
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