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The Bowl of Soup

by Kevin Ford
Photo by Jezebel Rose on Unsplash
 

Many years ago, in Geneva, Switzerland, a middle-aged business woman walked into a self-service restaurant at noon for a bowl of soup. She obtained her soup, found a table by a window, and then realized that she had forgotten to get a spoon. She walked back to the cash desk, found a spoon, and returned to her table, only to ?nd to her amazement that in the meantime a young black man had seated himself on the other side of her table and showed every sign of helping himself to her bowl of soup.

“What a nerve”, she thought. But he didn’t seem a rough sort, and she didn’t want to be unpleasant, so she sat down, moved the bowl back to her side, and said pointedly “Do you mind?!” He responded with a smile, but didn’t seem able to understand French, and when she tried to begin her soup, he pulled back the bowl to the middle of the table, and began to help himself to it. But he did it so gently and politely that she couldn’t bring herself to make a public scene.

A kind of “silent complicity” was established as they both consumed the soup. When the soup was ?nished, he got up and motioned to the woman to stay there while he went to the counter. He returned with a large helping of French fries, which he placed in the middle of the table, indicating that she should help herself. When these too had been shared, he got up again, gave her another smile, said “Thank you”, and left.

The woman re?ected for a while on this extraordinary encounter, and she too prepared to leave. It was then that she realized that her handbag, which she had put over the back of her chair, was gone. With a sick feeling, she ran to the counter to see if someone could chase after the young man, but all she got were shrugs. She remembered his smile and the “thank you” when he left, and recalled that immigrants were said to be responsible for a high percentage of crimes - and then…she saw her handbag. It was over the back of the chair of a nearby table, and on that table was a bowl of soup - an untouched bowl of soup.

Only then did she realize that it wasn’t the young man who had helped himself to her soup. It was she, who had gone back to the wrong table, who had helped herself to his soup. Not to mention his fries. And now she remembered, with a very different emotion, how when he left, he had smiled and said “Thank you!”

This story has had an English version with a cup of tea and biscuits, but the point is well illustrated.

Misjudging: it comes to human beings as easily as breathing

Have you ever had a conversation with someone that went something like this?
“So you’re talking to me today!” “What do you mean?” “Well, you wouldn’t talk to me on Wednesday.” “I didn’t see you on Wednesday.” “Yes you did. You saw me on Main Street. I called to you, you turned round, looked straight at me, and then walked on without a single word.” “I wasn’t anywhere near Main Street on Wednesday, and I certainly didn’t see you!”
While the encounter may not have actually happened, but the hurt feelings are all too real.

The tone of someone’s voice may indicate to us that they are annoyed with us, or bored, or being sarcastic. Someone does a certain thing, and we interpret a motive that may not exist. It can be humorous, embarrassing, unfortunate, or tragic, leaving in its wake bad feelings and broken relationships. Jesus Christ made an important statement on judging in John 7:24: “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” Notice that He doesn’t tell us we are never to judge. Judging is a part of life – a necessary part but He also warns that appearances can often be deceptive, and we must be on our guard against judging one another.

So, how can we learn to judge in a godly way? One way we might not have considered is to take some tips from the professionals those who do it for a living. We call them “judges”! There are many kinds of judges: high court judges, judges at sporting events, judges at artistic competitions etc. Of course, only long experience can equip a judge to do his work at the highest level. A referee in a Stanley Cup or World Cup ?nal has probably of?ciated in hundreds of previous games, and watched or played in hundreds of others, and that experience is what enables him to make good decisions. As we mature as Christians, our ability to judge should improve in the same way, but here are three principles exercised by high court judges which may help us in those judgments.

FIRST

Establishing the facts is all-important. A court’s function is to establish the facts – not guesses or assumptions or hearsay. An “opinion” can be heard, but only if it is from someone considered an authority in the matter before the court. That is why most of the time in a trial is taken up with questioning witnesses, who in turn are cross-examined by the opposing lawyer. The Book of Proverbs has some advice for us in this regard: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him” (Proverbs. 18:13); and the ?rst one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (verse 17). The lesson is clear - make sure you have the facts before jumping to a conclusion, and get both sides of the story.

SECOND

A judge can reject a case he considers trivial, or outside his jurisdiction. If I steal your Mars bar, that is technically theft, but no high court judge is going to hear the case. When a situation arises that we are tempted to judge, ?rst consider if it is something that is appropriate for us to decide. “Then one from the crowd said to Him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me’. But He said to him, ‘Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?’ ” (Luke 12:13-14) Christ was more quali?ed than any other human being to decide this case, yet He is ?atly refusing to hear it. Why? It was not appropriate for the Son of God to get involved in personal disputes, especially one as petty as whether or not someone acquired a little more money. Some of the situations that get us worked up are pretty trivial, too, and sometimes they’re simply none of our business. In these cases, it’s better to ignore them and get on with our lives.

THIRD

When guilt is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt – what is the verdict? – Not Guilty! It is the defendant who is given the bene?t of the doubt – not the prosecution. Have you ever heard of a court ?nding a defendant “probably guilty, despite the lack of evidence”? There are several references in the Law of Moses stating the same principle, that “by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established” (Deuteronomy. 19:15).  If there was only one witness, the case was considered “not proved”. The assumption of “not guilty” without conclusive proof is another wise principle to follow in our own judgments. You may think someone snubbed you, or gossiped about you, or did something to harm you, but do you know it for certain. If not, better let it pass, consider that it never happened, because, folks, it’s just possible that it didn’t actually happen.

The next time a situation arises that we feel we have to judge, let’s remember these points. Do we have all the facts? Is it something important, or that really involves us? And if the situation is uncertain, are we giving the bene?t of the doubt?

Remember that what you think you see may not be what you are looking at! Remember the Bowl of Soup!

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