Illustration: Lizzie Kevan
I take it in turns with others to chair a weekly meeting of about 40 people. It’s due to start at 9am but recently I’ve noticed that people have been arriving late. By the time we’re due to start there are sometimes just a handful in the room, and then the rest dribble in over the next ten minutes. Now obviously that’s wrong, and I could have been forgiven for asking them to make every effort to be punctual, but that’s not what I did.
As I opened the meeting and gazed out at the faithful few who were there on time, I had what seemed like a bright idea. I said: ‘As latecomers arrive, let’s give them a round of applause!’ So we did.
The first unfortunate arrived a minute late, looked surprised to be welcomed with such enthusiasm and, as the penny dropped, slipped into a seat, red-faced. There was a little flurry at 9.05, with vigorous applause for the three stragglers who were seven minutes late, and by the time the last poor soul – who had no doubt already had a bad morning – tried to sneak in at the back at 9.10 we were clapping as if it were the last night of The Proms.
How we laughed! I felt pleased with myself; a bit of fun and a lesson taught. Afterwards I spoke to those I’d embarrassed and reassured them that ‘It wasn’t just you.’ Secretly, I felt delighted with my little strategy.
There was only one fly in the ointment. Just as we finished clapping the last person, somebody shouted out some of Jesus’ words: ‘Do not judge, or you too will be judged’ (Matthew 7:1). To be honest, I was enjoying my little ruse so much that I hardly heard them. But over the next few days those words gnawed quietly at my brain and at 7.20am, exactly one week after the incident, they exploded into dreadful realisation. Two things happened almost at once. Firstly, I remembered how that quote of Jesus ended: ‘For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged…’ (Matthew 7:2). Secondly, I realised I was going to be late myself!
By the time I’d skipped the shower, put my underpants on backwards and used my wife’s hairspray instead of deodorant I was a wreck. I drove like a maniac, rushed up the stairs to the meeting room and made it through the door with 30 seconds to spare. But even as I sat there smelling of Elnett I realised this was now my life. Every month I was condemned to the dreadful potential of being the one clapped in; accused not only of lateness, but of hypocrisy.
I have thought a great deal about this in the intervening weeks. Next week I will apologise to the group, not only because I now realise I was wrong, but also for a more selfish motive. I have always thought of those words of Jesus as a wonderful insight from another world into our relationship with God, and as an incentive to let other people off the hook. But it suddenly dawned on me that they refer not just to judgement day, but to every day. Not just God, but other people – friends, work colleagues, spouses and even children ? will treat us as we treat them.
If you want to, you can choose to go through life pointing out when others get things wrong, constantly holding others to account, exercising your ‘rights’ and letting people know when they’re late.
But if you do, just get used to wearing your pants backwards.
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