I live in a place where diversity is so profoundly a part of every day life that people forget that most people in the world don’t live this way. I have become so accustomed to diversity that I have forgotten that people will sometimes stare, sometimes pull back in fear when a family that looks like mine comes to their community. In Los Angeles, where we live and work and play, we have friends who are all kinds of American, but we also have friends from Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, Turkey, Luxembourg, China, Vietnam, Germany and Japan. We have friends who are spiritual, friends who celebrate the power of the full moon, friends who are Catholic, Jain, Jewish, Hindi, and Buddhist. Our friends have come from all over the United States and all over the world. So, when I find myself in a place where people aren’t used to that level of diversity, I am surprised in ways I shouldn’t be. I know the history of our country and the people who have come to live to here and for this reason, no amount of prejudice, racism, privilege, or fear ought to surprise me, but it still does. Recently, I have had the opportunity to reflect on all the old tensions that exist in our nation. Some of these experiences are close to home and some of my dearest loved ones have had challenging days. In other cases, these old patterns have presented themselves on a national scale and I am sure each of you can think of an example, where you are, of someone who is different in one way or another being judged by appearance.
This is where my thoughts go when I read John 7. In John 7, Jesus finds himself with a group of people who do not believe in him, who whisper behind his back, who plot to kill him all because they believe that the Messiah could not possibly come from Galilee. The Messiah could not have come from Galilee some say because Galilee was not Jerusalem or Bethlehem. Galilee may have been a place of social dissent and political protest. Some believe the people there engaged in social banditry, taking from the rich to give to the poor. It isn’t clear, but it is suspected that some of this dissent and protest took violent forms. So Jesus could not be the Messiah because the Messiah could not engage in economic, political and social protest.
In the midst of this unrest, Jesus speaks and says, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” Jesus is saying don’t look at me and where I’m from and draw the wrong conclusion. Don’t assume that I am not the Messiah, do not assume that I don’t have value, don’t assume that I can’t change the world. Jesus continues to challenge us this way today. When we meet someone who doesn’t look like we do, or believe like we do or worship like we do, or that does not have what we have, I hope that we will hear Jesus shouting in our ear, “Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” My creation has value, my creation can change the world, and I often use those from the least likely places to teach humanity how to love.
When Jesus later says, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the Spirit,” I suspect that he meant those who are thirsty to know how to judge correctly, will have their thirst quenched.
Let’s pray that rivers of living water flow from us, that we judge all of our neighbors correctly. Let’s listen for Jesus’ voice in unexpected places, for rivers of living water to come from our most unfamiliar neighbors.
Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly . . . Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them. By this he meant the Spirit. (John 7:24 and 37b-29a)
Spring Cooke Deacon Culver Palms Church of Christ Culver City, CA