Resolve to judge others, and ourselves, less

It caught me by surprise that tears came to my eyes at an otherwise upbeat event around the campaign advocating $15 an hour for people working fast food and low-end retail jobs, rather than the minimum wage some have been paid for a decade or more without a raise. I got that catch in my throat as I was looking at a photograph of one of those workers holding a sign that said, “I am worth more.”

By freeing ourselves from human standards of worthiness, we can serve others with joy.

Why do we so often let society decide people’s worth in the economic realm?

We listen to society’s messages that a person is worth more if someone wants to employ her, if he can produce something with market value, if she has financial savvy.

Our churches and community organizations reach out to help people, but often we get stuck deciding who is truly worthy of the assistance — a distinction I heard a politician make recently even while encouraging people to help each other during the holidays.

When we decide who we think is worthy, it’s a form of judging others.

I confess that I can sometimes be a judgmental person. I suspect we all can, though some are better than others at avoiding it. And that judgment is often harshest of ourselves.

Our new year’s resolutions — not a bad practice in themselves — can cross the line from self-improvement into nagging criticism and a sense of failure.

Yet holding ourselves or anyone else up to standards of worthiness is not what God asks of us. God calls each of us to love God and serve our neighbors, sharing the gifts God has given us and the resources God has entrusted to us.

If we start by remembering what God asks us to do, it is liberating. The more we recognize that it is not our calling to judge others, the more we can receive in God’s compassion.

“Do not judge, and you will not be judged,” Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Plain, “for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Jesus continues in Luke 6: “Give to everyone who begs from you, … If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you?”

The Gospel of Luke tells us to share widely. Some of its stories even suggest we should spend money without care for what becomes of it.

If we trust that our God is both just and merciful, then we should expect and look for ways that God is working redemption even in the lives of those who seem most broken.

Human societies do not provide a level playing field. Privilege, inheritance of various kinds and circumstances beyond our control determine much in our lives starting at birth.

And because we often know little of another’s story, why not put our time and energy into reaching out to others with compassion rather than deliberating over whether the person will make good use of our assistance?

There are some things that are limited, of course, money being the big one. But we don’t have to become callous or adopt an attitude of scarcity. A lot of kindness can fit into a brief interaction, even a simple apology that one can’t do more.

By freeing ourselves from human standards of worthiness, we can serve others with joy.

Trusting in God’s justice and God’s redemption frees us to be channels of grace. Showing more grace to others and myself is a good enough resolution for me in 2014.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a minister and community gardener in Chicago.