A few months ago I heard a talk given by a South African lady that has remained in my memory.It went something like this:
You have some spare moments and you decide to spend some time at a well-known shopping mall. The weather is fine and you feel pleasantly relaxed. You meander around, casually window shopping for the most part, but occasionally buying a few items that you have on your list. You gaze for a while in front of a high class jewellers and peer at those fabulously expensive brightly-lit Rolex watches behind that thick glass. You sigh with a certain envy and move on. Then you wander round Waterstones and buy a popular book that you have seen reviewed in the press: but the experience is tinged with a slight depression as you gaze at those classics that were mentioned at college that you have never got around to reading. After an hour or so you legs begin to ache and your feet begin to burn. It's that Starbucks moment. A nice coffee and a pastry would be very welcome. Sipping coffee in one of these malls has an added pleasure, You rest your weary legs, enjoy your well-earned coffee and at the same time watch the world go by. As you relax you often experience a sort of interior critical monologue.
That smart young man striding purposefully along - he;'s obviously into corporate business and probably takes home an enviable salary. Then a slightly shabbily attired young woman passes. She shuffles along and is obviously obese. Why doesn't she get a grip of herself before she ends up grossly overweight! A rather harassed women with two children walks by. Her children are noisy and obstructive. You feel that she hasn't a clue how to discipline those two potential brats. That woman, she's obviously in her sixties; she's got all the latest teenage gear. Talk about mutton dressed up as lamb! And so it goes on.
Probably all of us have experienced this sort of thing in some measure.
But the south African lady went on to say something that is very obvious - such critical and judgemental behaviour is profoundly unchristian. Personally I had to admit that I do it a lot. As Christians we are put on this earth not to criticise and to judge, but to love and to pray for those whom God puts across our path.
A little later I bought a book on Amazon on the Desert Fathers, those strange Christians who retired into the wildernesses of Egypt during the third and fourth centuries. The book contained an anthology of their sayings. One of them struck me.
"A certain brother came to Abbot Poemen and said: What am I to do father? I am in great sadness. The elder said to him: Never despise anybody, never condemn anybody, never speak evil of anyone , and the Lord will give you peace."
I am still trying digest these words and, even more difficult, to put them into practice.