The tomato was misshapen so I passed it by. It was fat and red, but had a wart-like protrusion from one side. But later, when I picked it, carved off the protrusion, and cut two slices for a sandwich I wasn’t prepared for the taste. Wow! What an explosion of flavor.
Our supermarkets have trained us to expect uniform shapes in our tomatoes, cucumbers, apples and so on. As a result, we’re unprepared to discover flavor in veggies or fruit that isn’t a standard shape to fit packaging. The distance most of this produce is shipped dictates that things be picked when they are still unripe and hard enough to bear some rough handling. And so the taste is bland, unlike the French fruits and vegetables we hear about that are grown on smaller farms nearer their market. But that’s another story.
Many of us carry this propensity to evaluate produce by its appearance into all our value-judgments. Although we admit that judging a book by its cover is not fair to the writer, we do it anyway. We classify people by the colour and cut of their hair, the shape of their face, and the tint of their skin. Their ethnicity or origin. Their height and weight. Their accent or facility with our language. The car they drive. The house they live in. The clothes they wear. Their religion. Their marital status.
And yet none of these markers reveal the person behind the externals—the heart and soul and experience and passion of the person. Appearances deceive. I’ve been amazed again and again by how my perceptions of people change when I get to know them. When I listen to them. When I hear their story. That includes Pakistanis among whom we spent sixteen years.
God warns us about this tendency. In choosing a king to succeed Saul, God instructed Samuel: “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”(1 Sam. 16:7).
Jesus repeatedly broke cultural taboos by associating with tax collectors like Matthew, short people like Zachaeus, women in a male dominated society, Samaritans and other foreigners. He entrusted his revolutionary gospel not to those we would normally pick as leaders but to fishermen and misfits.
The apostle Paul warns about taking “pride in what is seen rather than in what is in the heart”(2 Cor. 5:12). He exhorts his readers not to look on “the surface of things”(2 Cor. 10:7).
I have to keep telling myself not to make superficial judgments about people. Don’t you? Like: all Jamaicans are…; all Americans are… ; all Chinese are… ; all Blacks are…; all Muslims are… all Canadians are… No they are not all the same. They are people like us; men and women, boys and girls, young and old, with hopes and dreams and problems. Their cultures may be different but God says; “Judge not that you be not judged.” “Don’t show favoritism.”
This is especially crucial in these days of racial and religious profiling.