Special photo: Susan Bennett
When I was in eighth grade, I was really fat and had huge, red pimples all over my face, and I was the tallest kid in my class.
Ouch! I was taking a required drama class, and we put on a play where the main character was a sort of homely, older woman with lots of children, and the teacher appointed me to play her. We staged the play and all the parents came, and later on, one of my classmates told me his mom was so surprised at what a good job I’d done.
I said, “Why was she so surprised?” And he said, “Well, because you’re fat and everything … she just figured you were stupid.”
Whoa! Don’t judge a book by its cover!
But we do that a lot, don’t we? We judge people all the time based on their race or nationality. We judge people on their religion, their politics, their profession. Ever told a lawyer joke? And clearly, we judge people on their appearance. I don’t even have to tell you how wrong this is, and the saddest thing is that our judgments are usually incorrect.
A good example of this is the story in I Samuel 15, where God sends Samuel, the priest, to anoint a new king from among the sons of Jesse. The sons begin to parade by Samuel, and Eliab, Jesse’s first son, looks good to Samuel. So, he assumes that Eliab must be God’s first choice to be king, but God speaks to Samuel immediately: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
God looks on the heart. Outward appearance alone doesn’t usually show us someone’s heart –– their motives, their need, their reasons, their intentions. Only God can really see that, which is why our judgments are usually incorrect. And while WE place a lot of emphasis on outward appearances, God knows that in the final analysis, it’s the heart that really matters.
Do you know how well and how long we really have to know someone to begin to see their heart? We even get it wrong with family members and friends sometimes! How can we possibly think we know those around us well enough to know their heart? And yet, we pass judgment all the time.
And here’s a scary thought. People are judging US all the time, based on what they can see from the outside! People see you get momentarily irritated over something and judge that you’re just an unpleasant person.
You really love red dresses and shiny jewelry, and folks judge you as a show-off. You get rattled for a second and forget something, and people decide you’re not very bright and maybe even squirrelly. OR … people see you angry and assume you’re bad-tempered and obnoxious, when what you really are is scared.
But they can’t see your heart. Now is that fair? And we choose to forget that the way we judge others is the way we’ll be judged ourselves.
We have to stop this, and learn to give one another a chance. Look at the mustard seed –– the smallest of all seeds on the earth, Jesus tells us in Mark’s gospel –– and yet, when it grows, it becomes the greatest of all shrubs. Who would have guessed?
From the outside, it looks tiny and insignificant. We shouldn’t be judging others at all, but if we base our judgments on what we can see from the outside, we’ve REALLY missed the mark.
The next time someone gets your goat, stop and think: What’s going on here? What’s making this person act that way? Look beyond the behavior to see the need. The next time someone acts or dresses in a way you disapprove of, look at them through God’s eyes of compassion, and you may be surprised at what you find.
The next time you’re ready to dismiss someone as small and unimportant, remember the mustard seed. When all’s said and done, the joke may be on you!
Don’t judge a book by its cover. In fact, scripture makes it clear we’re not to be judging others at all. Until the day comes that we can see into each person’s heart, we need to ask God to help us see them with HIS eyes of mercy and understanding –– the same way we’d like for them to see us.
This is a prayer God promises to answer!
Rev. Susan Bennett is pastor of Stockbridge Presbyterian Church. She and her husband live in Stockbridge with two giant Rottweilers and a 15-pound rescue dog who is the boss of everybody.