One of my daily practices is reading the obituaries in our local paper. This morning I found one about a man whose children I taught in high school in the 1970s. He was a small, seemingly nervous but very polite man, and was always happy to greet me over the years when I encountered him at his parish church where he was frequently involved in the liturgy. I held a great fondness for him and took him for a shopkeeper or a tradesman of some kind – one who would have treated every customer with kindness and generosity. I was surprised to learn from his obituary that he was a patent attorney, a rather distinguished one at that, whose demeanor did not fit my image of someone in that career for some reason. The issue was not one of intelligence or competency, but just the personality traits that are necessary for a lawyer’s life.
This morning’s gospel (MT 13: 54-58) has Jesus being scrutinized by the people from his “native place’ who were astonished at his wisdom as he taught in the synagogue. Their comments were quite derogatory (not just surprised as are mine). “Where did this man get such wisdom and mighty deeds?” they asked. “Is he not the carpenter’s son?…Are not his sisters all with us? Where did he get all this?” And they took offense at him.
These two examples set me to thinking how easily we assign people to boxes without really knowing them at all. My assessment was a positive one but totally off the mark. I don’t think it made any difference in the way I treated Mr. B, but I can’t be sure since, with a sister who had a successful career as a lawyer, I am in some ways pro-prejudiced (although not always) toward people in that profession. In the case of Jesus, the people in his hometown took Jesus for an arrogant man, going above his station to preach to them. They were quite put out with him so they couldn’t get the benefit of what he was saying. So once more we have a lesson in not judging at face value but rather digging deeper for the truth that lies at the heart of people and things.