May 16, 2013

Judging in the Fast Lane

I was on my way home from a very busy day. I was alone in my car as I collected my thoughts from the day. It had been one of those days in my life that started way too early and was way too full; and wasn’t going to end until late into the night.  

I needed the drive time home to rest my mind and start re-entry into my home life as I awaited my turn to get on the entrance ramp to the freeway ramp. I was looking forward to a meal with Cathy before I went to my next meeting.

As I approached the freeway, I noticed that cars were already at a standstill as each made their way to their destinations; all the while making an oxymoron out of the word “rush hour”.

As my pickup truck crawled up the ramp I watched each of the cars take their turn as directed by the two sets of stop and go lights. To my right was the coveted “HOV bypass Lane”, the one in which carpools and buses can bypass areas of regular congestion. In this case vehicles in that lane didn’t need to wait for the stop and go lights. The only requirement is that you need to have at least two people in the vehicle, and then you, too, can drive in the fast lane.

While waiting my turn at the lights, I noticed a vehicle make a furtive move with his car and move across two lanes and get into this HOV lane. The problem was that he was the only person in his vehicle. 
My mind raced as my light turned green and I sped up to the freeway driving directly behind this person. All sorts of self righteousness entertained me as I wished that somehow justice would be served to this man who, in my opinion, blatantly violated the purpose of the HOV lane.

I thought to myself; “Hey, where is a law enforcement person when you need one?” wishing that I had some sort of “tin badge” so that I could… as I noticed that he was going to be taking the same exit that I was also going to take.

Quickly, my mind went another direction thinking who was I to judge him? I thought of the times that I was glad that there hadn’t been a law enforcement person as I rolled through a stop sign or drove slightly over the posted speed limit. I thought of the passage from Matthew 7:1-5. I like how Eugene Peterson translates it;

Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own. Do you have the nerve to say, ‘Let me wash your face for you,’ when your own face is distorted by contempt? It’s this whole traveling road-show mentality all over again, playing a holier-than-thou part instead of just living your part. Wipe that ugly sneer off your own face, and you might be fit to offer a washcloth to your neighbor.” (MSG)

But, I thought, although I was grateful for mercy, we weren’t talking about me; ahead of me was the person who had just violated of the law by driving in the fast lane!

When we both came to another stoplight at the top of the next ramp, I noticed the man turn and reach over into the back of his car and pick up something. When he turned back to grab the steering wheel, I noticed something else. Two small hands reached up from the rear seat and held the item that man had picked up from the rear seat of his car.

I had wrongly misjudged the situation and declared this man guilty of a crime that he had not committed. There had always been (at least) two people in the car the whole time! The man had every right to drive in the HOV bypass lane -and he didn’t need my permission to do so!

My heart sank as I prayed for forgiveness; I had judged this man for driving in the fast lane! I also prayed a blessing on the man in the car ahead of me as the lights turned green and each of us once again started on the drive home.

I write this because I just finished teaching a class on “The Character of Leadership”; which focused on areas leaders face such as integrity, sincerity, honesty, and the perils of power.

I thought of the passage from the Bible that says;
My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment.” (James 3:1 NKJV).

The ‘stricter judgment’ was ringing in my ears as I listened to what I had been teaching in light of what had just taken place. As I told my students; “The real test for this class will take place outside of the four walls of this classroom.”

And I thanked God for His mercy and that I hadn’t had a “tin badge” (which I wouldn’t have flashed, although sometimes I think that all of us wished that we could…). We all would better if we would learn to not judge in the fast lanes of our lives.

"Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved."

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson



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