Some time ago, as I walked down a lonely street in an old town, I saw this older woman sitting on a bench with a big frown on her face. I was compelled to stop walking and consider the scene before me for a moment. Why was she frowning? What did this have to do with me? Many faces were pulled from my memory; I had seen this scene before.
Memories surfaced from interactions I’ve had with many different people over my lifetime. I have been told I am pretty good at first impressions and reading people, but that does not mean I am good at this every single time. I remembered my first impressions of some of my closest friends; some were good and some not so good. With some of my friends, it took many years of continued approaches before I could open myself to them. I wondered why this was.
We do not know what most of our brothers and sisters have gone through in life, where they came from, and how those experiences and places shaped them. We meet them quickly, yet assume that this is who they have always been. We end up passing judgment on them from that quick interaction. Growing up, I never doubted this process: happy people that looked me in the eye were good, cranky people that side-eyed me were not so good. I did not have time to dig deeper nor knew how to go about it, so that simple judgment helped me get by.
How many good people did I designate not worthy of my time because of that one interaction? How many blessed friends did I not make because of my simple bias? I know that over time this has cost me. I can say that it was not done maliciously, maybe it was something ingrained through societal forces, or perhaps it was inherited through the example of those close to me, but regardless of how it came to be, in the long run, it has diminished me. It hurts to think that my quick judgment and dismissal might have also hurt them. Oh Lord, how sorry I am for that. How much of Your charity, true love in action, was not dispensed because of this?
I have come to understand what it is to approach someone differently by seeing them through the eyes of Christ. Everyone has a story, sometimes joyful, other times sad. In some of our stories, there is frustration and anger. In some of those, you can also find redemption and justice. There are so many stories, just as varied as the various people we are, and how we all carry the stories of our lives is written somewhat on our faces. It would be of great value to listen to these stories and acknowledge the lives of those in front of us. How much humility, joy, compassion, mercy, charity, and justice could we reap and share? How much would those interactions enrich us all? There is so much to learn from each other, but we need to be open to doing this.
We are all called to give someone the benefit of the doubt, even if the first impression was not ideal. Christ looks at us sinners and sees not our sin and faults but the persons we were created to be. Can you imagine being able to see our brethren in the world as Christ Himself sees us? Like the good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke (10:29-37), I am so glad to know that Jesus does not just walk on by. He stops to listen to our story and accompanies us, even when we have a frown on our faces.
Coming back from the depths of my thoughts, I decided to let myself follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit; I stopped to engage the lady on the bench. “Hi. I can’t help but see that you seem upset. Are you ok?” The lady looked up at me and, with a surprised look, gifted me with a little smile. “I will be ok but thank you so much for caring. It gives me hope.”…and that, right there, taught me why we are called to be good Samaritans; it both increases our charity and gifts hope.
Let us let go of our hang-ups, let go of our unfair biases, and go beyond our first impressions to truly look at the people we meet. Our care, tone, and intent towards someone can help reassure those who need acknowledgment. Maybe we end up with a new friend, and perhaps we end up growing in charity; both ways, we are no longer diminished but enriched, and at that moment, we are much closer to how Christ is.
Let us pray: Lord of Heaven and Earth. You are the perfect good Samaritan; from your love and compassion, we poor ones are acknowledged and enriched. Help us learn from your teaching, follow your example, let go of our own biases, and reach out to those we meet who need a compassionate hand and a willing ear. Help us see your people through Your eyes and love them as with Your heart. Amen.