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We’re so quick to judge

Instead, take a cue from Jesus, who confounded the Pharisees by allowing a sinful, crying woman to wash and dry his feet

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Danique Photography via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — For Friday’s final convocation during this week’s Synod of Lakes and Prairies’ Synod School being held at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, the Rev. Dr. Jill Duffield selected the biblical account of the woman pouring an alabaster jar of ointment on the feet of Jesus, which she washed with her tears and dried with her hair.

In the story, Simon the Pharisee thinks to himself that a true prophet would have known “who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner.”

“Simon saw a sinner. Jesus saw someone in need of grace,” Duffield said. “Whom do we see?”

Many of us are quick to judge. Duffield read a handful of Yelp and Google reviews of people’s various church experiences. Most, she noted, are short and to the point, in the “Great church! Great people!” category.

But not all of them.

One reviewer was angry over the service and long lines at a Greek festival hosted by a church. Exasperated, the family decided “to go home and make our own cookies.” It didn’t help, the reviewer added, that a 90-year-old woman was their first point of contact at the festival. “It did little to improve efficiency,” the reviewer sniffed.

Another reviewer wrote a glowing review of a church in Richmond, Virginia. The very next review was this: “The spaghetti was undercooked.”

“This is what we do as a culture,” Duffield said. “We assess and review everything and everyone … We are constantly looking in order to pass judgment, and so we aren’t really seeing anything.”

It turns out the Pharisees were ahead of their time, she said. “They would have loved Twitter,” Duffield said. “They would have loved Yelp reviews.”

She even wrote the Pharisees a sample review: “This Jesus knows how to draw a crowd, but you don’t want to rub elbows with the people clamoring to get close to him. #WhatWouldMosesDo?”

“We look to judge rather than to see,” Duffield said. “Jesus calls us … to be proximate to people, particularly those on the margins. Thanks be to God, Jesus meets us exactly where we are. He welcomes that woman, weeping and vulnerable. He knows she needs God’s mercy, and she holds nothing back from Jesus.”

the Rev. Dr. Jill Duffield

Duffield spoke of the last few days of Lamekia Dockery, who died three years ago in an Indiana community corrections center after crying out at least a half-dozen times for medical help and not receiving the care she needed. The mother of five had been given a one-year sentence for violating her parole by shoplifting.

“Her family believes her cries were dismissed because of who she was: a Black woman on drugs,” Duffield said, quoting Dockery’s aunt: “They didn’t think she was worth nothing, but she was worth a lot to us.”

“Ms. Dockery was watched, but she was not seen, because there is a big value gap in our culture,” Duffield said. God sees those many of us don’t see “as sinners in need of grace, beloved children of God for whom Christ died, people for whom transformation is possible.”

Jesus told the Pharisees that he is “much more interested in those who understand at the core of their being how much they need God’s grace,” Duffield said. “This person in the pew who is hurting, the cashier at the grocery store, the ones sitting around your dinner table and the people who are invisible in our culture.”

That’s why Duffield called her final talk “Called out to be ambassadors of Christ.”

“Far too many people right now feel crushed and defeated,” Duffield said. She was talking to a young adult working as a server at an upscale restaurant who described his work as “soul-crushing.”

Why, Duffield asked.

The hardest part, the server told her, is “when people treat you as if you aren’t human, snapping their fingers, tapping the table, threatening to leave a scathing Yelp review if their food doesn’t come faster.”

“It is soul-crushing,” the server said, “not to be seen as a human being.”

“My friends,” Duffield said, “what if we thought first and foremost about how we are the ambassadors of Jesus Christ,” how we are to “embody the love that has been shown us.

“There is no gap so wide,” Duffield said, “the cross of Christ can’t bridge.”

“When you go back to your communities as ambassadors of Jesus Christ,” Duffield said, “how can you be the hands and feet of our savior who gave himself up for the sake of the world that God so loves?”

“Be courageous. Be overjoyed that we have been saved by grace and are able to share that grace with others in a world that really, really needs it. Thank you for having me this week.”

Those in attendance gave Duffield, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, North Carolina, a standing ovation. The church, Duffield among them, was mourning the sudden death of its associate pastor, the Rev. Dolly Jacobs, who died unexpectedly Thursday evening.

Synod School will next be held July 24-29, 2022. The convocation speaker will be Dr. Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, an author and professor and the Chair of Theology at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky. The worship leader will be the Rev. Tim Hughes Williams, the pastor of Light Street Presbyterian Church in Baltimore.

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