Judging a Book by its Cover

In John chapter 7 Jesus was in Jerusalem for the feast of Tabernacle, a Jewish Torah-commanded celebration in commemoration of their liberation from Egypt by the hand of God. Jesus took the opportunity to teach those who had gathered in the Temple. His listeners were amazed at his teaching despite the fact that he had not attended any of their prestigious schools. In addition to being stunned by his words, wisdom and works the people stumbled over his person. Jesus was immediately confronted by a people who were out to do him in.

The religious Jews had a vendetta against him. They wanted to kill him because he, Jesus, had earlier miraculously healed a lame man on the Sabbath day and commanded him to take up his mat and walk (John 5:8). They erroneously felt that Jesus had not only specifically violated the Sabbath day regulations but broadly the Torah by claiming divine authority. They were therefore determined to kill Jesus (John 5:18).

Jesus challenged the religious Jews saying, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24 NKJV). The Greek term used for ‘judge’ here is the verb krinete, “to pronounce an opinion concerning right and wrong,” “to reach a conclusion about an act or a person,” “to subject to censure”. The self-righteous religious Jews would not look past the superficial external appearances to see the reality of who Jesus was and what his mission was. If they had taken time to seek first to understand who Jesus really was, they would have known that he was “the Lord of the Sabbath” (Matthew 12:8) and that it was right for him to bring wholeness of life to those impeded by infirmity. Furthermore, the religious Jews were unable to make the connection between their doing God’s work of circumcision on the Sabbath and Jesus’ healing, making a person whole on the Sabbath day. The religious Jews loved the letter of the law but did not understand the spirit of the law. Jesus here condemns their ignorant, superficial and hypocritical judging.

To judge someone solely on the basis of their race, colour of their skin, nationality, cultural background, unsubstantiated rumour, physical appearance, academic achievement or lack of it, financial standing, social status, upbringing, etc., is superficial and wrong. The religious Jews were bent on bringing Jesus down and such judging which is meant to tear down rather than build up and is not based on deep understanding, is here condemned “Do not judge according to appearance…”

Instead, “…judge with righteous judgement”. Jesus commends judging that is the righteous exposure of error or wickedness. This kind of judging is not merely an option but an obligation. The word ‘righteous’ depicts both the character and the manner of those who judge others. It points to the person who presumes to judge to examine himself or herself and consider his or her true intent. Proper judging is to be done with compassion, in conformity with facts, according to biblical truth and always with the good of others genuinely in view.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8