By Grace Andrews of Independence, MO, USA
Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it. —Psalm 34:14 NRSV
Jesus could have stopped by the table and called out, “Hey, you, tax collector—everyone’s enemy!” But he didn’t. He asked Matthew to follow him. He could have called out, “Woman—you adulteress!” But, no, he said, “Go and sin no more.” Instead of calling Peter a traitor, he called him a rock. He saw Apostle Paul instead of Saul. He saw a Samaritan woman as an evangel.
How many people do we push aside by labeling them? Joni Erickson once said she loathed the label of “quadriplegic.” She said, “I’m me; this is Joni inside here. God sees me as Joni, not a cripple! Why can’t you?”
Corrie ten Boom wrote about being a guest speaker in a church in Munich after World War II. She spoke of Christ’s forgiveness. To her horror, she recognized in the crowd a former Nazi SS guard (national police). She, her sister Betsy, and many other women endured horrible, humiliating treatment at his hand while they were in prison during the war.
In the receiving line, the former German officer looked into her eyes and asked if she believed what she said. His hand reached out to shake hers. She, who had just preached about the need to forgive, kept her hand at her side. Angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through her. Deep inside, she knew Jesus died even for this former SS officer, but she could not raise her hand.
She prayed silently, “Jesus, I cannot do this. I cannot forgive this miserable excuse for a man. Help me.” She didn’t know how it happened, but suddenly she reached out and took his hand. Then she felt love for him that almost overwhelmed her. In her mind, she erased “prisoner” and “guard” labels. They could begin again as two human beings—a new association made possible by the forgiving love of God.
Such extreme circumstances may never challenge us to forgive and love. However, God asks us to throw out the labels and see others as God sees them—rich in potential, no matter who they are or where they have been. We can see with God’s eyes.
Prayer for Peace
We can never fully know all that you are, God. How can we know the full worth of others? Help us to see them as you see them. Help us to see first a child of God and build peaceful association from there.
Spiritual Practice: Honoring the Worth of All Persons
Sense the intimate knowledge and love God has for you and everyone. Be aware of the sacred worth of each person. Weep with God over the soul-wounding forces and events that rob people of dignity and worth. How does God invite you to notice, protect, heal, and affirm the spiritual identity of all God’s beloved people today? Pray for God’s compassion.
Today, God, I will not apply nor reuse labels.