Selwyn Hughes, the gifted Christian pastor and author, tells of a day sitting in a café having a break when he heard two women nearby talking about the bad weather that was happening at the time.
One of them looked out the window and saw the rain pouring down, and a man sweeping the road with no protection: Look at that poor man out there, getting soaked by the rain. And the other woman said: But he’s only a roadsweeper. The man I feel sorry for is that well-dressed gentleman standing over there at the bus stop. He must feel terrible caught in this sudden downpour.
What was really going on with this conversation?
A sense of superiority, feeling that a man’s dress defines who he is? That the roadsweeper was not as important or valued as the man in the suit? This is about being judgemental or feeling superior for all the wrong reasons. How can you tell a person’s worth by the job they do? How did the woman know the roadsweeper was less important than the well-dressed man? How could she know?
It is easy to mistake a person’s character by their appearance, and be totally wrong. We cannot judge people by their appearance. And there is a tendency to judge people by what they do. If you have an impressive job title, others will likely be interested—but a roadsweeper? What’s wrong with that?
Here is the problem: We must realise every person has intrinsic worth irrespective of age, gender, religion, culture. The quality of a person is no more a function of their job than is their intelligence a function of where they went to school.
The Story of Susan Boyle
On the night of the Britain’s Got Talent contest, April 2009, a shy middle-aged church volunteer marched on the stage, and you could almost hear a collective groan rising up from the audience. Her name was Susan Boyle: she was unmarried, “had never been kissed”, didn’t have a job, and lived with her cat in a tiny cottage in a far-off corner of Scotland. Then she opened her mouth and began to sing: “I dreamed a dream in a time gone by,” a lyric from the musical Les Miserables.
The transformation—an ugly duckling turning into a supreme swan—could be sensed immediately. “It was one of those perfect moments,” one of the millions of viewers on YouTube commented later, “and we witness so few of them in our lives, when negativity, separation and prejudice are transformed into beauty, appreciation and unity”. You never truly know what someone is like by judging them their appearance or job.
The Trap of Judging Others
Have you ever fallen into that trap of judging others? A young couple moved into a new neighbourhood. The next morning while they are eating breakfast, the young woman sees her neighbour hanging the wash outside. “That laundry is not very clean,” she said. “She doesn’t know how to wash correctly. Perhaps she needs better laundry soap.” Her husband looked on, but remained silent. Every time her neighbour would hang her wash to dry, the young woman would make the same comments. About one month later, the woman was surprised to see a nice clean wash on the line and said to her husband, “Look, she has learned how to wash correctly. I wonder who taught her this?” The husband said, “I got up early this morning and cleaned our windows.” You see how easy it is to have the wrong view about others.
Without knowing the facts, unfortunately we make judgements on people all the time. and we get it wrong sometimes. If we want people to respect us, we need to treat them with respect as well. Jesus said in Matthew 7:1-2 (CEV): “Don’t condemn others, and God won’t condemn you. God will be as hard on you as you are on others. He will treat you exactly as you treat them”.
The Message paraphrase says it like this, “Don’t pick on other people, jump on failures, criticize their faults, unless of course you want the same treatment.” If Jesus were here he might want to ask you and I, How do you want to be treated? We’d probably say favourably. He would probably say, Treat others favourably. Jesus said:
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother? Let me take the speck out of your eye, when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” Matthew 7:3-4 (NIV)
Psychologists would call this projection—’projecting’ on to others, seeing in others something you don’t like in yourself. You may or may not be aware of what that issue is.
We tend to look at people and circumstances from our brokenness and our biases, our prejudices and our pain, from what we know or think we know.