Not Judging by What the Eye Sees

by Brian Walsh

A shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse,
and a branch will grow from its roots.
The Spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth. (Isaiah 11.1-4a)

I once taught Sunday school at the Church of the Redeemer in Toronto.

And I had two kids with very similar names – Matthew and Matthias. Two boys around the same age, and they both played the violin. And like a lot of teenage boys that I know, they both had a habit of being late for their lessons. So it wouldn’t be a strange site to see either Matthew or Matthias running down a downtown Toronto city street with a violin case in hand.

But only one of them ever found himself being pulled over by a police officer and questioned when he was seen running down the street. Only one of them somehow caught the attention of the police. Only one of them seemed suspicious running down the street with a violin case. Only one of them was accosted and asked to give his name, to show identification, to explain where he was going, to somehow give an account for the fact that he was running down the street with a violin. Only one of them had to explain to the policeman that he was late for a violin lesson, and that yes, this was his violin.

Only Matthew was ever stopped by the police when he was running to get to a music lesson. You see, Matthew is black and Matthias is white.

The prophet says that the one who is to come out of the stump of Jesse “will not judge by what his eye sees.”

So what does a cop see when a black kid is running down the street with a violin case in his hand? Well that looks downright suspicious, doesn’t it? I mean where’d that kid get that violin? And why is he running?

But it was only Matthew who got such attention, not Matthias.

I guess that seeing a white kid running down the street with a violin suggests that maybe this kid is late for a violin lesson.

But we all know that black kids don’t take violin lessons, right?

So what does a cop see when Matthew is running to get to a lesson?

He sees a black kid who just stole a violin.

The one upon whom the Spirit of the Lord rests, “shall not judge by what his eyes see.”

Take two.

Another Matthew, only this time he goes by the name Matt. When you first see Matt you might think “automotive mechanic” and you would be right. When you look at his well-tatooed arms, you might think, “working class guy,” and you would be right. When you look at the world weary lines on this man’s face, you might even think, “military veteran who has seen some serious action” and you would be right.

And then when you first hear Matt talk, the rather colourful adjectives that he uses, the tone of his voice, and the accent all suggest, “rough around the edges, hard nosed working stiff.” And that would be right as well.

So when Matt shows up to do graduate studies in philosophy, specifically when Matt wants to read ancient epic tales in the light of the Nietzschean turn in late 19th century philosophy, well it is kind of hard to take the guy seriously.

I mean, he doesn’t “sound” educated.

He doesn’t “sound” like graduate students in philosophy.

And so Matt kind of gets humoured, and some of the faculty can’t really hear the amazing philosophical insights that come out of his mouth because, well, they just don’t sound right.

And when it comes time to hand out some scholarship money, Matt gets frozen out of the department.

But the one on whom the Spirit of the Lord shall rest, will not decide by what his ears hear.

Take three.

This time no one in particular but a lot of different people that I have met in my years in the world of the academy.

The transcript was, to say the least, less than stellar. An occasional “A” but they were few and far between in that sea of “B’s” and “C’s.”

In fact if you look closely there are a few too many incompletes on this student’s record.

But here is this student applying for advanced study, for the next step up the academic ladder.

Clearly this is not an application that is going anywhere.

This is no candidate for graduate school.

Heck you might even wonder why a student with such results even bothered with university.

You can see the transcript, it’s all you need to know.

But there is so much that you don’t know.

You don’t know the personal circumstances of this student’s university career:

Was he married?

Did she have children? Perhaps an unwanted pregnancy?

What were this student’s financial circumstances? Did he hold down a half time job while studying full time?

What other things was this student up to over those four years at the university?

Did she run an out of the cold program?

Was he deeply involved in a Christian fellowship or some other campus group? Did her mother die in first year and her dad commit suicide a year later?

Has this student struggled with learning disabilities?

He will not judge by what his eyes see, or by what his ears hear.

One more example. Take four.

I admit that I have a bit of an allergic reaction to suits. And it’s not just when for some reason I have to put one on. I’m kind of allergic to them full stop. And the more expensive the suit, the higher quality the fabric and the tailoring, the more allergic my reaction becomes.

John wore such suits. Expensive suits.

And not only did John wear expensive suits, he also was a developer and he lived in Rosedale, the most expensive part of Toronto.

Not necessarily my kind of a guy. I can see where this guy is coming from. I can see who he is.

Or so I thought.

I also saw that he was incredibly gracious and welcoming. If there was someone new in church, John would be the first person to greet them, and if they didn’t seem to know how Christian worship worked, he would sit with them throughout the service.

And one day a homeless man came to church. A poor man. A man who seemed to be suffering from mental illness came to church

And over went John to sit with him.

I thought, “John is doing security this morning.” I judged by what my eyes saw.

But it wasn’t security, it was hospitality. This was “welcome here, how can I make this a safe place for you?”

And when John and our guest came forward during the Eucharist, the man began to weep. Weeping at the table of the Lord. Maybe this man knew something that the rest of us didn’t.

And then John put his arms around that homeless neighbour and held him as he wept into John’s expensive suit.

And John wept too, as he held this new friend.

That was when I realized that Jesus had come to church that morning. Twice. He came as that homeless man – I was hungry and you fed me, I was confused and you took me under your arm, I was sorrowful and you held me as I wept.

And he came in the arms of my rich friend with his expensive suit who held a neighbour in his sorrow.

He will not judge by what his eyes see, and what his ears hear.

My friends, it is Advent, and the Kingdom of God is at hand.
Let us pray that we will bear the fruit of repentance in our lives.
Let us pray that we will be people of righteousness, justice and faithfulness.
Let us pray that we will not judge by what the eye sees or decide by what the ears hears.
Indeed, let us pray that we will have eyes to see and ears to hear the good news.
Let us pray that we will have eyes that will see beyond our stereotypes,
ears that will listen closely to the stories of our neighbours,
eyes to see each others gifts,
ears to hear each others joys and sorrows.
Let us pray that we will have the eyes to see a shoot that shall come out of the charred stump of Jesse, out of the charred stump of our own lives.

Let us pray, Amen, come soon Lord Jesus.

Brian Walsh
Brian is an activist theologian, a retired CRC campus minister, the founder of the Wine Before Breakfast community, and farms with Sylvia Keesmaat at Russet House Farm.He engages issues of theology and culture, and has written a couple of books you might want to check out. His most recent offering is cowritten with Sylvia Keesmaat and entitled Romans Disarmed: Resisting Empire, Demanding Justice.

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