A grumpy old man or a beautiful young woman?
I’ve had three separate conversations in the past week in which another person and I had very different impressions of someone we were talking about. We saw what they did or what they said in almost opposite ways because of earlier impressions they had left on us. In one of these conversations, a friend said, “I saw What’s-His-Name smoking joints with some shady characters when he was a teenager; he’s a bad dude.” Inside of me, I said, “IT’S TIME FOR YOU TO RE-MEET WHAT’S-HIS-NAME.” I didn’t have the guts to say it out loud, so I’m writing it in a Messenger article.
Holding on to our early impressions of people can lead to an insidious kind of prejudice. Sometimes it happens in families, where the child that learned to speak a little later than the others has become identified as “the slow one,” and the family has lower expectations for them than for their siblings. In other situations, a perception may come from one incident in which the person acted inappropriately, and we can’t get it out of our minds; when we see them, we revisit that moment. We know intellectually that one particular word or action doesn’t define the person, but we always seem to go to the same default way of viewing their words and actions. This is unfair and prejudicial.
Jesus told a story about two sons (Luke 15:11-32). The older brother followed the rules and developed a reputation for being “the good one.” The other broke the rules, lived a messed up life and has become known ever since as “the prodigal son.” When he turned around and came back home, his father saw him as “this son of mine [who]was dead and is alive again” (vs. 24). His brother, however, could only see him through his past actions, as “this son who has devoured your property with prostitutes” (vs. 31). He could not give up his personal prejudice.
A “Samaritan woman” had an encounter with Jesus (John 4:7-26). Jesus knew some really negative things about her: “You have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband” (vs. 18). And yet, he looked past all that and saw her as a person worthy of engaging in a deep spiritual conversation about the true worship of God. The disciples only saw her as a tainted woman who could hurt Jesus’ reputation (vs. 27). Their prejudice blinded them to seeing her as a person.
Is it time for you to re-meet someone you’ve “known” for a long time, but you’ve never taken the time to know really well? Someone you may have labeled a certain way because of a past word, action or pattern of life? That’s prejudice. Maybe you need to look again with fresh eyes. It’s only fair –how you would want to be treated by others.
This week, give old What’s-His-Name a second look. Say, “How do you do? Glad to finally re-meet you.”
– Pastor George Van Alstine