Back in the days when I worked in a public school I was in the habit of making the short drive to my favorite sandwich shop at lunch time. I only had a half hour break, so there was no time to dawdle. One day I was driving back with my tuna sub when I came to the usual stop light. I was feeling especially impatient that day because I had a parent meeting right after lunch and I didn’t want to be late.
When the light finally turned green, the person in front of me didn’t move. I strained to see what was happening. It was an elderly man, sitting motionless and looking straight ahead, apparently lost in the fog of his own thoughts. I laid on the horn. It startled him, and he lurched forward through the intersection.
Dark thoughts flooded my mind as I followed him through. They really shouldn’t let old people drive if they can no longer pay attention to what they are doing. He probably couldn’t even see the light, his eyesight was so bad. These befuddled retired people with nothing to do shouldn’t take up space on the road, where people like me are out there trying to take care of business and get things done.
Taking a left turn, I soon came to the next light. I was glad to be the first in line this time. I started thinking about the meeting I was about to attend, where I would have to explain to an anxious parent that her child had a learning disability.
Suddenly I heard a horn honk loudly directly behind me. I looked up at the traffic light and saw that it was green. When did it turn green? I lurched ahead and drove as quickly as possible down the road, hoping to put some distance between me and the person who had tooted behind me. What dark thoughts was he entertaining about me?
Looking in the rearview mirror, I saw that my face was flushed with embarrassment. I recalled Jesus’s famous dictum; Judge not, that you be not judged, for with what judgment you judge, you will be judged (Matthew 7:15). How many times had I repeated that to someone who I thought needed my advice? I sensed Jesus’s presence as I suffered the special pain reserved for those who discover their own hypocrisy.
What did you learn? Jesus asked. I learned that the person in front of me, the man who didn’t go when the light turned green, the one I disparaged, criticized, and ridiculed because he wasn’t paying attention…that man was me. We were spiritually identical. Two children of God just trying to make it through the day as best we can. And I learned that, unlike the scribe who was praised for being “not far from the Kingdom of God,” I still had a lot of work to do. That’s what I learned.
Good. Now go, and sin no more.