Have you ever found yourself making a quick judgment about a person? Looking at them, listening to them for only a few moments and then putting them into a slot in your mental inventory of people. We might think “this person sees everything through rose colored glasses,” or “this person always assumes the worst,” or “this person has had a very easy life.” I admit that I often make these kinds of judgments about people and I don’t think I am the only person who does this.
But every once in a while, someone surprises us. The writer Jonathan Rosen tells a sad story about his grandmother that illustrates this. He says, “A few years before my grandmother’s death, my wife and I were sitting at her dining room table having tea when my wife asked my grandmother why she had only had one child. This was not the sort of thing one discussed with my grandmother, but my wife was curious. I cringed, waiting for the chill response, but my grandmother surprised me by telling my wife that, as a matter of fact, she did have a second child. We looked at her with astonishment. The child, she told us, had been stillborn. This was news to me. Nobody had ever told me the story. My intrepid wife persisted: Did my grandmother know the gender of the child? Yes, she said. It was a boy. And then my wife asked my grandmother if she still thought about that boy. Every day, my grandmother said, without hesitation. At the time, my grandmother was ninety-two years old.”
Jonathan thought he knew all there was to know about his grandmother. We often think we know all there is to know about the people around us. We’ve put them into our mental slots, but the truth is, I believe, that if we scratch below anyone’s surface level we will find that there are surprises and great depth there. Maybe secret sorrows like Jonathan’s grandmother, or moments of amazing heroism, or depths of thought that we never knew about, simply because we never asked.
Jesus never made this mistake. He always looked beneath the surface. Everyone else looked at Levi and saw a sinner and tax-collector, but Jesus saw a potential apostle (Luke 5: 27-32). A Pharisee who invited Jesus to dinner looked at a woman anointing Jesus’ feet weeping and thought ‘sinner’, but Jesus saw someone whose great love showed that she had been forgiven (Luke 7: 36-50).
What is sad is not that we don’t have Jesus’ insight to see into people’s hearts, but that we so often fail to even try to look beneath the surface. Like Jonathan Rosen, we assume we know all there is to know about someone and then are surprised when we find out that they have been carrying a secret sorrow every day of their lives. There are many reasons we do this. But one that I think could make a difference is taking the time to pay attention to the people around us. We are so often in such a hurry that we simply do not take time to notice what is going on with the people around us. So slow down, is the rush of our lives really that necessary? Pay attention to those around us and try to see people the way Jesus would have seen them. And don’t be surprised when you discover hidden depths in people you never expected.