"Judge each person with the scales weighted in their favor."
Mishnah, Avot 1:6
Scales were a well-known metaphor for judgment in the ancient world. Even within Greek mythology, justice is represented as a blindfolded woman holding a scale. Egyptian justice is pictured with one's heart being weighed on a scale & a feather being weighed in another pan.
I (Ryan) used to do yoga. I’m sure I’ll get back into it, but I’ve never been good at it. Still, I’ve always felt a bit healthy when I was in the awkward postures of bending, breathing and believing I was getting in touch with my inner self. Yes! I am clearly always going to be a yoga rookie who still cannot touch his toes. Still, doing yoga, I've seen this same vivid picture of "weighing" as one side or part of your body is being pressed down or twisted, the other side must have the same pressure and posture. It's the balancing mixed with healthy, rhythmic breathing that is important when one does yoga.
In the Jewish tradition, balancing is an imperative posture as a disciple on many levels as well. Discipleship is a walk requiring one to grasp a Rabbi's "yoke!" The Rabbi is the one who has mastered the art of balance and weighing things, so to speak (one would hope!). You are linked or harnessed to the sage as a disciple. The Rabbi’s walk is the student’s walk.
Yoga comes from the root word "yuj"in Vendic Sanskrit, meaning "to add", "to join", "to unite" or to "harness" based figuratively upon the picture of two oxen harnessed with a yoke to do work. Balance... just like weights from a scale! Just like a young disciple becoming like one’s Rabbi.
The 1st Century sage from Galilee echoed other Rabbis with the saying, "Students (talmidim/disciples) are not above their teacher (Rabbi), but all who are fully trained will be like their teacher/ Rabbi." - Luke 6:39
Did you hear that?
The whole point of a disciple is to be just like the Rabbi in both word and deed!
This life changing statement came after a short, easy to understand, parable regarding a blind man who followed a blind man. They both will fall into a pit! Well, NO $#*+ Sherlock!
Jesus knew the balancing act of discipleship was way off in his context. Studying the culture of his time, we see some Rabbis who were incredibly intense in their disciplines & study, but horribly off balance in their application. Blind men will lead blind men! Spiritual blindness is apparent in any context, whether we are talking about 1st Century Israel or 21st Century America.
Jesus' mission was to open the eyes of the blind, bringing love through spreading the good news regarding the kingdom/ commonwealth of heaven/ God’s reign of shalom on earth. New systems of scales were much needed then and still needed today! The means in which this would take place would be through disciple-making. The model was simple.
Follow the Rabbi.
Therefore, in order to usher in shalom (real, holistic peace!), discipleshp is the means to that end, and loving others with a healthy balance system in place is the natural outcome and overflow!
Therein, lies the problem....
Most of the unchurched and nonChristian world sees Christians as men and women filled with bitterness, lacking real joy, filled with hypocrisy and ugly judgment. The root of the problem is that discipleship entails someone who follows someone who isn't blind in this "balancing act" so to speak. Following means harnessing oneself to all the "yoke"... not just studying it! This is a balancing act, indeed.
Have the blind been leading the blind?
The question to all professed Christians must become, "Are you worth becoming?"
That’s a big and terrifying question, indeed! There are too many Christians (including me at times if I’m quite honest) who solely put their faith IN Jesus, yet neglect to live out the faith OF Jesus! We've somehow misread and misapplied the Gospels. This misreading and misapplying is not a minor glitch in the system of churches across the western world. It's a major issue that keeps the world from seeing the love and grace of God that was intended to create shalom on this planet! Christians should actually taste good to the world that is always watching their every move. I had a friend tell me once, "The church just seems to put on a show (meaning that is it lacks true authenticity!)" followed with this funny statement, "And, it's not even a good show!"
So many people are just plain sick of putting on the show and watching the show anyway. The world deserves better. Humanity aches for something more substantial at the end of the day.
Moving forward, let's get back to one of Jesus’ teachings, which is tough as hell to live out! In Luke's Gospel, right before Jesus talked about a student not being above his teacher and the blind man leading the blind man he says the following:
“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 and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” - Luke 6
This evokes the imagery of the marketplace within the 1st Century. A merchant would measure out grain by pouring it into one pan of a scale until the grain became level with the weighted side. If you were a kind shopkeeper you would heap a little extra on it, letting the pans of the customer's grain tilt past the balancing point. The grain poured into your lap was due to generosity! In Jewish conversations, this was the picture of giving someone the benefit of the doubt! Disciples of Jesus, co-carrying his yoke, are called to bestow more grace, mercy, forgiveness and love with a big-hearted lifestyle toward all humankind! This moves beyond the world's standards of balance and justice. Christians are not supposed to weigh others through their own eyes (which is always a good reminder!).
Jesus followers are to see others through the eyes of Jesus! This is what the rabbinical saying about judging your neighbor, "with the scales weighted in their favor” literally means!
Regardless if you are a professed Christian or an Atheist (or something else), try living this out for a day, two... perhaps a week, then try it out for the remainder of your days on earth! Your eyesight and application will drastically change.
How come we are so quick to judge someone else's heart?
I know I’m guilty of this on a regular basis.
How might we judge more favorably in each new situation? It starts with getting to know other people's stories. When you sit across from someone and hear their story, walls come down.
… And this, my friends, is the true heartbeat of why we do what we do at Brew Theology! Brewing theology is a fun part of our community, but the unity we find in our diversity is where it’s at; this begins with a Yoga-“Namaste”-posture toward others at the table (more on this in a bit).
Perhaps the person who had his arms crossed during the presentation and asked a really mean-spirited question just found out that his father got cancer?
What if the angry man at the check out line just got divorce papers delivered to his doorstep?
What if the surly next-door neighbor is battling with depression, juggling jobs and trying to feed 5 kids after his wife walked out?
Perhaps she was beaten as a child?
Maybe he beat his kid and feels absolutely horrible with nobody to talk to about the guilt and shame?
What if her dog actually did eat his homework?
"Judge not your fellow man until you yourself come into his place." Mishnah, Avot 2:4
Damn. That’s good. We need to hear this over and over again… I know I do!
After you consider the “other” and put yourself in his/her shoes, regardless of what they've done or where they've been (victim or the victimizer), you will feel your anger or bitterness drain away. Sadly, our judgments and suspicions of others can easily lead to contempt and hatred if we aren't careful ... Yes, the dark side, it will. Thanks, Yoda!
Author Lois, Tverberg says, "Universally, we're all butchers with our thumbs on the scale, and often we're completely wrong in how we size others up." - Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus
If we are critical of others and become a chronic complainer, we will never see the world the way it was intended to be seen, and we will always fall short in bringing loving shalom to our communities. Our culture is saturated with enough negativity and pessimism. We will poison the world when we judge without mercy. Most of the time, when we treat others with a critical spirit of resentment or breed contempt is because we have never received true mercy. Or, maybe we've forgotten the mercy that we received years ago. My challenge to all of us is to love those people who are critical along with those that breed contempt! Kill 'em with kindness. And, if you are that person who has been embittered by a negative spirit, please know that you are deeply loved!
Caveat: This posture doesn’t mean that we allow people to walk over us, nor does it give absolute tolerance a place at the table and allow people to say oppressive things to others. No! We will continue the efforts of standing up for justice on behalf of those on the fringe of society. Calling out hateful bigotry and fear-mongering rhetoric is still a part of this messy-balancing equation. That IS love!
I’m a Jesus guy. So, I’d like to end with this guru’s words and actions while blending some yoga in the finale. Jesus continues to speak truth after he spoke about the blind man leading the blind man saying:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. - Luke 6
To be a disciple of Jesus means to grant others the benefit of the doubt and to look within your own soul before you start pointing out faults in your "neighbor." This implies that you actually care about your neighbor beyond being a "project." This means a real relationship is at stake without any form of "judgment." If we spent just 1/2 the amount of time reflecting upon our own junk, we would be less likely to look at someone else's shortcomings. When we've done this difficult discipline, humility is our purest means of success as we journey with someone else's mishaps. This means, that if we get to a place of taking "sawdust" out of someone else's eye, we have already confessed and gotten real with our own shit! Our "sawdust" plucking will then become gracious attempts of loving someone that we are doing real life with on a consistent basis... When we take on this posture, there resides a different balancing act that might become contagiously life-giving to the world around us.
The next answer resides within Leviticus 19:18. It's the 2nd greatest commandment that is nonnegotiable to the disciple of Jesus. "Love your neighbor as yourself." Scripture makes it clear that you can't say, "I love the LORD but I don't love my neighbor!" This is not the way of Jesus. Loving God and loving one’s neighbor go together like Yoda & Luke Skywalker....
Another way of looking at this imperative commandment in its Hebrew context is by looking at a parallel Yoga salutation, "NAMASTE!"
At the end of every yoga session my good ‘ole buddy, Willis, used to leave me with the salutation, "I see the light inside of you. I recognize it as the same light that's inside of me and I honor that light. Namaste!"
What a beautiful way of finishing a Yoga class rooted in the word, "Yoke" as people have been balancing their own bodies and fighting the tension that they each see within their own soul. The truth can be seen that in the "other" I find the same struggle and the same beauty, the same hurts and the same joys, the same courage and the same fear. Namaste is a respectful way of honoring the other! We aim to do the exact same thing in the pub each and every week. We honor the person across from the table in our vast differences and create a truly brave space for freedom and vulnerable opinions to brew in our midst. We find unity in the chaos.
Rabbi Moses Cordovero once said, "In everyone there is something of his fellow man.. Hence, "love your neighbor" - for he is really you yourself."
Jesus' teachings and yoke genuinely reflect this statement. A more accurate, Hebraic way of looking at this text that Christians spout all of the time is to say, "Love your neighbor who is similar to yourself."
THIS changes everything!
Therefore, disciples of Jesus, I challenge you to ...
Stop plucking SAWDUST!
Readjust your SCALES!
& NAMASTE y'all!