At a very young age, I had a life changing experience. Growing up in a rural area, our home was not far from woods and railroad tracks where homeless peoples of diverse races existed as best they could. In 1955 (during a time of much racial unrest in this country), I was four years old and out playing in those woods. Already at that age, I had been exposed to deep prejudice that friends and family held toward those of a different color or socio-economic status.
"The Samaritan woman therefore said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.)" (John 4:9).
As I was playing in the woods that day, I became stuck in dense underbrush for what seemed to be a very long period of time. Eventually a homeless black man came up to me. As he neared, my young mind summoned thoughts of impending doom. I thought my life would soon to be over. Based on what I had heard and been told, I believed this was a person to be feared. As he came nearer, I knew that he sensed my terror. Instead of harming me – or even ignoring me, which he could’ve easily done, he reached out and said, “Here, take my hand”. I reluctantly grabbed it and he pulled me out. I had a sense of wellbeing and great relief as he walked me home. When we arrived at my home, the man told my father what happened. My father offered him some money for his good deed. Looking back, I know that I saw the face of Christ in that kind man, I’m also glad that he would have the opportunity to get a good meal that evening.
“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.” (Luke: 10: 30-36)
This experience has stayed with me throughout my life often causing me to question some of my personal biases and prejudices about others who just happen to be different or less fortunate than me. If we are honest with ourselves, many of us know that we can be quick to judge the circumstances of others. When judging others, here’s what we often say. Why can’t these people do something about their life? Why can’t they pull themselves up by the bootstraps? Why can’t they beat their drug/alcohol addiction? Perhaps some insight can be drawn from understanding the cycle of poverty from one generation to the next. Just think of how your life might have been different if these had been your priorities when growing from childhood into adulthood.
1. I know which grocery stores’ garbage bins can be accessed for thrown-away food.
2. I know how to physically fight and defend myself physically.
3. I know how to get a gun, even if I have a police record.
4. I know how to keep my clothes from being stolen at the Laundromat.
5. I can get by without a car.
6. I know how to live without a checking account, electricity and a phone.
7. I know how to move in half a day.
8. I know how to respond to people who use racial or ethnic slurs.
9. I am very good at trading and bartering.
10. I know how to get someone out of jail.
“But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”( John 7:53-8:11)
To a great extent, we are all a product of our life experiences. When we find it difficult to understand another’s situation, perhaps we would do well to remember that each of us see the world through different lenses. To a significant extent, what we see in the lenses is influenced by our gender, age, race and socio-economic circumstances. If we kept that in mind; meditated on the life of Christ and prayed about it, perhaps it would help us to be more like Him in service to others and less judgmental. JG