Judged by the Company You Keep
*Originally posted October 17, 2016
The idea behind the expression is a negative one, that is, if I hang out with a liar, thief, etc., that is who I am. In high school my sister wrote an essay on an assigned topic: “Judged by the Company You Keep.” Her thesis was that it was unfair to assume that just because someone was seen with another person, that it made her or him the same.
The teacher was not amused and not convinced. My sister mounted a defense, but it did not improve her grade.
Jesus got judged often by the company he kept—as far as I remember it was an accusation and an insult to Jesus. If he was with sinners, then Jesus must himself be a sinner. The measuring stick of the judges was not one with which Jesus agreed. Why Jesus hung out with the “outcasts” is what is important. He could learn from them. What was it like to be berated by the religious professionals? What kept someone in a cycle of societal sin? Would they be willing to learn from his life and teachings? When Jesus was with the fringes of polite society, it was not to show superiority, but to help people see a better way. And, to reveal the hypocrisy of the accusers.
Because of the political race to the White House, I have been thinking of how the people with whom we associate are revelatory of who we are and what is important. There is no way for me to vet all of the advisors to each of the candidates. But having lived in New York for seventeen years I saw a couple of Trump’s cheerleaders bluster and bully, namely Governor Christie and former Mayor Giuliani. Some of the men Trump has drawn around him have a reputation for overwhelming their adversaries through the power they wield, which has been especially used against women. Rather than being a check against abuse of power, the company Trump keeps confirms and encourages it.
Giuliani famously called Trump a “genius,” because he figured out a way not to pay taxes on his personal income. But there is something called the common good. There are people every day who depend on services made possible by our shared responsibility: Medicaid, medicare, social security, and disability benefits. Jesus said pointedly, “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked” (Common English Bible). Trump boasts that he has given or will give to different charities. But somehow those checks don’t seem to get written.
I agree with my sister that it is unfair to decide someone’s character solely based on the last person seen in her or his company. But when there is no distinguishing characteristic that is different one from the other, then there may be something to it.
I'm a writer,
a lover of the arts,
and on occasion,
a pot stirrer.