Thursday, 21 March 2019

Looking at the heart

We all make judgements about people. We make them instantly. The moment we see someone, we make judgements about them. We can’t help it. Within a fraction of a second we assess someone’s age, gender, race, social class, relative wealth, general health and prevailing mood. We are remarkably good at it. It is a key skill for our survival.
However, it is a skill that is nonetheless flawed and limited. As we grow up, we learn to make value judgements about different kinds of people. We adopt common generalisations, and come to value some people more than others. This is an entirely natural way of processing information, but it is also a fertile seedbed for racism, sexism and all manner of unhelpful isms.
Three thousand years ago, the prophet Samuel was tasked with anointing a new king for the ancient nation of Israel. The first king had gone off the rails and God was preparing to bring on a substitute. Samuel went, as directed, to the now-famous town of Bethlehem and announced to a man called Jesse that one of his sons would be the next king. Jesse's eldest son was quickly introduced to the prophet. Samuel was impressed. From his perspective as a seasoned political leader, Samuel saw in Eliab an ideal candidate - tall, distinguished, steady, and and experienced soldier - qualities needed in a king. God did not agree. God said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature. I do not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but I look on the heart.”
One by one, six more of Jesse’s sons were brought to Samuel and each one of them got the divine thumbs down. Somewhat confused, Samuel asked the old man if he had any more sons. Jesse’s reply was dismissive: “There’s the youngest. He’s only a shepherd.” Samuel insisted the youth was summoned. As soon as he saw David, Samuel understood what it is that God looks for in a person. David was different from his older, wealthier brothers. He was bright eyed, and - more to the point - his heart was in the right place. 
When we rely on our natural instincts to assess people, the assumptions of our upbringing and the prejudices of our community distract us. Like Samuel, we need to learn to look beyond people’s outward appearance. We need to look through the windows of their eyes into the state of their heart. When we learn to do that, we will begin to notice all sorts of things that God is doing in our world.

Recently published:
the life and loves of a disciple of Jesus 
by Robert Harrison

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