How They See Us – March 5, 2023. Second Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 58:5-9, Matthew 7:1-12
March 5, 2023
So we continue today in the Sermon on the Mount. The greatest sermon ever preached! And as we look at this seventh chapter, I want to suggest to you that a lot of what Jesus said here was about other people’s perception of us. It’s about “how they see us” as Jesus’ followers. That was important in his time. And it may be even more important today!
I was reading a book recently in which the author said that people in our world, people in our culture, are beginning to see Christians more and more as being irrelevant and extreme. Think about that. We used to live in a predominantly Christian society. But not so anymore. Now many people see us as irrelevant and extreme.
They see us as irrelevant, in that what we believe just doesn’t apply to them anymore. They believe that, “all truth is relative,” and “our truth” is not “their truth.” And the Bible is just another book. And they see us as extreme, in that what we believe about Jesus and salvation is on the radical side of things. Some even see us as extreme if we simply share our faith with others!
That’s what the author said. And his statements were based on hundreds of interviews with people in many areas of our culture. He quoted lots of percentages. “Such and such a percentage of people say this or that about us.” It was that kind of thing. And as I read, I got to thinking that it is important that we take note of people’s perceptions of us, that we give thought to “how they see us.” And it’s no coincidence that we have these words of Jesus that come next in the Sermon on the Mount!
As we begin these words in chapter 7, I am reminded of what another author said years ago about people’s perception of us. He said that, even if people in our culture know nothing else from the Bible, they do know the verse Jesus started with today. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.” And they know that verse – and they say it – because they don’t like the judgement Christians bring upon them!
And as frustrating as that can be for us, as we’re trying to live out our faith, I think there’s something to be learned from it. If, in dealing with other people, we begin with judgment, we stand a good chance of turning them off right away, and sending them “out the door.” And, as you’ve heard me say in the past, if you send them “out the door,” you’ll never have the chance to win their hearts!
So, in dealing with others, in thinking of their perception of us, we’d better be very careful not to begin with judgment! But then, very quickly, we see an even bigger message from Jesus here. Yes, he’s saying, “Beware of judgment.” But he’s also saying, “Beware of hypocrisy!” We talked about that word last week. Jesus was very concerned about people who “Don’t practice what they preach.”
This whole first paragraph is about that. And here he gives this illustration about seeing the speck in your brother’s eye. And he’s using hyperbole here, that is “exaggeration, to make his point.” He asks, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but you do not notice the log in your own eye?”
You know, for years, I thought “judge not and you will not be judged” was about not being judgmental, so that God will not judge us. It was similar to, “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” But I’m not so sure, given the context of this chapter. I think this statement about not being judgmental may be more about how we will be seen by others. If they see us as being judgmental, condemning people, we will be judged and condemned by them. And we will send them out the door. And we will never have the chance to win their hearts!
Some of that is seen in this next, somewhat bizarre, verse. Jesus says, “Do not give dogs what is holy. Do not throw your pearls before swine.” I’ve never been quite sure what that meant. I have to admit that’ve usually just skipped over that part. And I’m still not sure. But I think maybe it means, “Do not throw in people’s faces the things that are holy to you – things like the discipline and commandments of your faith. Because it will not go well.” If we seek to win their hearts first, then those things, the practices and tenets of the faith, can follow.”
I think those are all good things to think about when we consider “How they see us.” And then, as Jesus continues, he offers us a better way. And this too is about how they see us. He says, “Ask and it shall be given you. Seek and ye shall find. Knock and it shall be opened unto you.” When our lives are oriented to that positive, joyful reliance on God’s blessings, we will offer the world a different perception of us, won’t we?
For weeks now, we’ve been saying that the things God wants us to do and be is “a better way to live.” I believe God wants us to show that better way! Or as Paul wrote, the “Still more excellent way!” I believe Jesus wants us to be people who live that “more excellent way.”
He goes on to say, “What man of you, if his son asks for bread will give him a stone?” “Of if he asks for a fish will give him a serpent?” That’s another somewhat bizarre statement. So let me suggest what Jesus may well have been saying here. He may have been saying that people in our world are longing for what we have as Christians. They may not know it. They may not admit it. And they may be, and often are, searching for it in all kinds of other places.
And their search is real! I see it all the time! People in our stressed out world want the peace of mind that only God can give. People who are stuck in the “rat race” of life, with no other reason to carry on than just to “carry on,” are longing to know that there’s true meaning in this life. And they want to know the meaning that we have in our lives, because we are God’s people! And if all we do is give them rules and commandments and judgment, we will have missed out on a real opportunity to give them the “good things” Jesus is talking about here!
Think about it. Sometimes one of the biggest mistakes parents make is giving their children all the rules and discipline and expectations, but forgetting the love and nurture and joy of life they so desperately crave, and on which they thrive! There’s a little bit of that here in Jesus’ statement about “giving good gifts.”
As we think today about “How they see us,” we need to think about what we are offering them. And as we do so, we need to remember what is perhaps Jesus’ most famous quote. In a conversation about doctrine, which Jesus was often drawn into by people, he told Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son” – that he gave the greatest of these “good gifts.” That’s the best place to start! When thinking of how others see us, we need to remember that the love of God is at the heart of our faith. (It is the heart of our faith!) And “how they see us” needs to start with that love!
.Then Jesus ends this with what has been called ever since “the golden rule.” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” And yes, that means you’ll be a better person if you do that. But even more, it will make all the difference in how they see us. If we follow that rule, they will see us the way we would hope to see us, if we were in their shoes.
That’s a good question to ask. “How would we want to see us, if we were them?” A wise man once said, “Never judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Why? One answer is, “Because then you’re a mile away from him, and you have his shoes!” But that’s not it! (Although I do like that answer!) If we seek to understand others, we will be less likely to judge them.
If we’re going to be the light of the world, as Jesus called us, we need to understand how others are seeing us. To do that, we need to put ourselves in their shoes. What Jesus is calling for here is empathy and compassion. When reaching out to someone he wants us to try to understand what it’s like to be them.
Because, after all, if you think about it, that’s what God did when he sent his son to be like us.
Eternal God, help us to be people who rely on you. Help us to see the many blessings you give us each day, and to have the joy of being your people. Help us to be ready at all times to give answer for the hope that lies within us. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.