Who are you to judge the life I live
I know I’m not perfect,
and I don’t live to be,
but before you start pointing fingers
make sure your hands are clean.
-Bob Marley, “Judge Not”
“Your son should be ashamed of himself, he is a disgrace,” a woman told my father, pointing at me accusingly. I remember the occasion well, and although I cannot remember what the issue was, I clearly remember my embarrassment and the hostility coming from the woman’s pointed finger as she screamed out my alleged shortcomings. Whether justified or not, such accusations are always hurtful.
There is a poignant scene in the gospel story as a group of indignant men drag a woman to Jesus, pointing their fingers at her in moral and mortal accusation. Her immorality, they point out, demands her public execution. But Jesus did not join them in pointing his finger at her, instead he pointed his finger to the ground on which the accusers and the accused were standing, the common dust of their shared humanity – “If any of you have never sinned, then go ahead,” he said, “throw the first stone at her!” (St. John 8:7 CEV) Within moments the accusing gaggle of moralists dissolved, leaving Jesus alone with the hapless woman. “Isn’t there anyone left to accuse you?” he then asked her. “No sir” she replied. “I’m not going to accuse you either” said Jesus.
How easy it is for any of us to play the blame game by pointing our fingers at other people while ignoring, minimizing, and covering up our own faults. “Why do you concern yourself with the speck in someone else’s eye, and ignore the log in your own eye?” Jesus asks rhetorically (St. Matthew 7:3-5). Yet we are so prone to blaming others as if our own lives are the standard of truth and righteousness – socially, politically, and spiritually! How much easier it is to blame someone else than to fully face or take responsibility for our own shortcomings.
Ironically Jesus, who refused to point his finger at others, became the accused as Judas led an incensed crowd of people to confront him. As the accusations began to fly, their fingers wagged and pointed at the man whose mission had not been to judge and condemn but to heal and love. Yet Jesus did not lift a finger in self-defence or retaliation. From a distance of more than two thousand years, it’s hard for me to comprehend how the crowd could be so fickle as to turn on Jesus in a cacophony of hostility and accusation. They just did not get what he was all about; it was as if they had no memory of what he had taught in their marketplaces and how he had healed their friends and relatives. Although I’d like to think I am not as fickle as they were, I wonder if I really would not have been among those who accompanied Judas and the Pharisees in pointing fingers of accusation at Jesus.
There is an old aphorism which says that every time you point your finger at someone else there are three fingers pointing back at you. Yet how comfortably we recognize failings and imperfections in other people while remaining oblivious to our own. And more often than not we point critically at those with lesser faults than ours in order to justify and deflect attention from ourselves. Jesus did not come into the world to point a finger of condemnation at anyone; instead he came with open arms to embrace all of humanity with the love of God. Maybe that was his downfall – his goodness and his grace unmasked our tendency to be so graceless and unforgiving of others; and in so doing we find fault with Jesus, just as the Pharisees did.
During this Lenten season as I reflect on all of the pious and self-righteous fingers of accusation that were pointing at Jesus, I realize how frequently I point my finger at the faults of other people even though Jesus points not at them or at me but to the dust of our common humanity speaking mercy and forgiveness both to accusers and accused.
If God’s the game you’re playing
Well we must get more acquainted
Because it has to be so lonely
To be the only one who’s holy.
It’s just my humble opinion
But it’s one that I believe in.
You don’t deserve a point of view
If the only thing you see is you.
You don’t have to believe me
But the way I, way I see it
Next time you point a finger
I might have to bend it back
Or break it, break it off.
Next time you point a finger
I’ll point you to the mirror.
– Paramore, “Playing God”
Ron W. Nikkel is the president and CEO of Prison Fellowship International (PFI). For more information, visit the PFI website.