About Jesus  -  Steve Sweetman

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Did Jesus Really Judge Her?


The disciples were stunned to see Jesus talking to a Samaritan woman (John 4).  They questioned why He was being so socially irresponsible.  It was not socially or religiously correct for a Jewish man to be seen talking to a woman, especially a Samaritan woman, in public.  Of course, Jesus could not have cared less about cultural correctness.  He would be seen conversing with all kinds of social castaways.  Prostitutes (Luke 7:38) paralytics (John 5:1 - 15) and lepers (Mark 14:3) were often seen by His side.  He went as far as to choose Matthew, a Jew who supported the Roman regime by extorting his fellow Jews as he sat at his tax collector's booth (Matthew 9:9).  He chose Simon the Zealot to be a disciple, a Jewish revolutionary who was preparing to revolt against Rome (Matthew 10:4).  Neither was Jesus afraid to bump heads with the religious establishment who had desecrated the Law of God with hypocritical traditions. 


It has been said that Jesus' gracious and non-judgmental approach to the Samaritan woman of John 4 should be the model for Christians to follow.  I concur with that.  However, there's something in the narrative of this passage that when overlooked, as it often is, distorts our view of this model.     


I ask, was Jesus really non-judgmental in how He related to this woman?  Did He judge her in any way?   The answer is found in how you define the word "judge".  Whether in English or in New Testament Greek the basic meaning of the word "judge" is to make a determination; to draw a conclusion.  In contrast, it appears to me that our culture defines the word "judge" to be a bigoted assessment of someone.  Therein lies the ongoing controversy I face every time I raise the issue of Christians judging.  How I define the word "judge" differs from how many define it today, and that includes how many Christians define the word.    


It should be understood that any determination, any judgment, that anyone makes, is based on a presupposition that forms the foundation of his judgment.  My presupposition to all issues is based on how I understand the Bible, and again, this presupposition accounts for the controversy. 


Jesus' approach to this Samaritan woman was based on His presupposition that love and acceptance cannot be divorced from truth.  This is what is often overlooked in this passage.  Even though Jesus was extraordinarily gracious to a woman whose culture would have shoved to the sidelines of society, He could not ignore the truth that she was an adulterous (John 4:18).  He reminded her that she had five husbands in the past and the man she was now living with was not her husband.  According to the basic definition of the word "judge", Jesus made a determination about this woman.  In fact, He judged her to be an adulterous and in no uncertain terms He told her so.  In other words, He spoke the truth in love as the Apostle Paul told us to do in Ephesians 4:15.


Jesus exposed this woman's sin for a reason.  There is no salvation apart from genuine repentance, and, there is no genuine repentance apart from an acknowledgement of sin, and, there is no acknowledgement of sin apart from knowing that you are sinning.  I agree.  This passage is a model for us today.  Like Jesus, I believe I cannot forsake Biblical truth in the process of love and acceptance.  I cannot forsake the call to acknowledge and repent of sin in the process of love and proclaiming the gospel of Christ.  Remember, love is the way in which we approach people with the gospel (1 Corinthians 13).  Love itself doesn't save anyone.  It's the message of the gospel that is the power of God that leads a person to salvation (Romans 1:16).  If you neglect that part of the gospel message that calls one to repent, you neglect the very foundation of the gospel we're commanded to preach.


Jesus commanded us to judge righteously (John 7:24) and without hypocrisy (Matthew 7:1-6).  The first disciples of Jesus did just that.  Peter judged Ananias and Sapphira to be liars (Acts 5).  He judged Simon the sorcerer to be a wicked man (Acts 8).   He judged the Jewish leadership to be on the wrong side of God (Acts 4).  Paul judged a man to be an adulterer (1 Corinthians 5).  He judged Peter to be acting hypocritically (Galatians 2).  On and on it goes.    


I understand that this flies in the face of social and religious tolerance, and I graciously accept any criticism that comes my way.  I know the word 'judge' has evolved into a nasty bigoted word, something it never used to mean.  I also admit that far too often Christians use inflammatory words that have no redemptive value in their attempt to make a righteous judgment.  This should never be the case.  From a Biblical standpoint, the goal in making a righteous judgment is not to put someone down and make them feel like a second class citizen.  The goal is to help restore a person lost in sin.  Once the judgment is made, like Jesus, you extend graciousness without compromising the truth. 


In the final analysis, judging is not the real issue.  How and why we judge is the issue. 


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