You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? Romans 2:1-4
To sit at the Piedmont Driving Club, among old friends and some from more recent years, in a setting that was familiar from my childhood and in that place to hear about educational opportunities for those on the other side of town, the other side of the economic advantage, the other side of any kind of advantage was surreal. More jarring was that those speaking as recipients of the charity of this gathering were my neighbors, school children wearing the uniforms I see walking past my house every morning and afternoon. Both groups of people know very little about one another, many have some distant assumptions about the other, but both are unconsciously certain that they probably will never sit down to dinner in this place as intimate soul mates or best friends ever in the future. To each other, they are both “other”.
At that gathering, everyone chuckled when the facilities at Westminster (the school in partnership with APS to execute this summer program in support of which we were all gathered) were praised as “the best and finest”. I suppose everyone chuckled because it is obvious, because it was an understatement and because what else can you do in the brief awkward moment when abundant resources cross paths with the rarely resourced? And then this morning, Terrell and I visited a promising school in our neighborhood whose walls were covered in peeling paint, whose budget does not include full time administrators least of all art, music or foreign language teachers, yet is bringing to the table another viable option for parents in the area who have no choice otherwise. It is a school full of heart and great philosophy and might serve our own children well in the future, but it is far from the standards, resources and facilities of the Westminster Schools.
I don’t know what the answer is because I don’t even know what my question is, really. Maybe my question is, “What is God seeing in this juxtaposition of worlds?” Or maybe it is, “Where is the person and work of Jesus setting His gaze?” He always seemed to be recorded zeroing in on the hemorrhaging woman or the tiny man up in the tree or the children, individuals and situations nobody else seem to notice or perhaps even tried to avoid in contrast to the more obvious attention grabbing events. I am pretty sure that redemption of all things even now probably isn’t just “evening out the facilities” or making sure everyone at every single school has a Mac laptop to advance their academics. There is a deeper dissonance pulsing through this juxtaposition upon which Jesus has His finger but I can’t seem to place mine.
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Sam. 16:7
Before I go looking outward at some societal problem as if that is where Jesus’ gaze is, which it almost never is, I need to understand better what is pulsing in my own heart, which is where the Gospel always focuses its work. The resourced don’t have need of the under-resourced and the under-resourced are doing everything they can to become resourced. The affections of both are set on the resources: the facilities, the influence, and the opportunities that seem dependent upon those things which resources provide. Human beings become invisible from both perspectives. My heart feels unsettled in one environment and depressed in the other and my heart judges one contingency and is condescending to the other. My heart does not see dynamic human creations equally made for a dignity greater than material or experiential resources in either setting. My eyes are entirely preoccupied with the outer appearance of both and absolutely missing the hearts just beneath the distractions and losing mine as well.
My affections and gaze have been captured by the products and achievements, by the juxtaposition of the haves and have nots, as if the person and work of Jesus has as the ultimate aim fairness and equal distribution of stuff. What breaks His heart is not the brokenness of unequal Apple laptop allocation but the disregard of one people group for another, the lack of genuine love and affection of one created being for another as we vie for positions of authority over one another. When God is on the throne, love for others flows from worship of Him. When I am grabbing for the throne, stepping on others is a necessary part of the climb onto that big chair. When I see only peeling paint or shiny Mercedes SUVs, I am not focusing on the same thing for which Jesus has lived, suffered, died and resurrected over which to reign: the hearts and affections of His people, even mine.
Does this environment increase my attention upon Him or does that? Will it take more of these resources to enlarge His reign in my heart or will His rule be more easily grasped with less? Do all hearts respond the exact same way, thereby needing some new law about just how nice an interior needs to be decorated to display His glory from within the hearts of the inhabitants? Does poverty and ignorance glorify God better than affluence and elite intellectual achievement? Are there temptations inherent in both? Of course. But in my golden calf of education, I have forgotten what man’s chief end is, and it is not resourced opportunity. The juxtaposition, I suppose, is actually more about whose reign I am more concerned with and whose is destined for overthrow. When my worship returns to the proper and current and eternal inhabitant of that throne, I will not see others in contrast to one another as much as in equal position (and need) before that throne. Perhaps if my heart’s gaze were more fixed on that, I would be less easily distracted by the outer appearance of things.
Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises. For God is the King of all the earth; sing to him a psalm of praise. God reigns over the nations; God is seated on his holy throne. Psalm 47:6-8