The lady in front of me was much older than I, probably in her mid-sixties, wearing pink pancake makeup that showed a definite line along her jaw, and sporting a headful of gray curls. She had on a blue flower-print house dress with a white Peter Pan collar and a hand-knitted cardigan a shade darker than the dress. Her stockings sagged just a bit above her black shoes, the narrow black laces looped through a three-pair eyelet across the tongue. She must have noticed me out of the corner of her eye when I pushed my cart into line behind her, because she suddenly stood straight up and looked around.
Her gasp was audible from several feet away and a dozen people looked at me as she asked, “What are YOU doing here?”
She was a member of the church we had moved to work with just a couple of weeks before. Lucky for me I recognized her and could actually say her name when I greeted her. Before I could add anything about needing a few groceries she must have realized how she had sounded and, trying to undo any harm said, “Well, I guess you DO have to eat like the rest of us.”
I thought of that incident when I saw a commercial the other day which stated at the bottom, “Real people, not actors.”
Ah! So actors are not real people. Yes, I imagine they too have been accosted in grocery stores the same way I was. What are you doing here? You don’t need to eat—you aren’t a real person. Evidently, neither are preachers and their families.
But don’t we do that to so many others too? How about the waitress at your favorite café? Do you even talk to her or do you treat her like furniture? How about the cashier at the grocery store? The bagboy? The deli guy who slices your meat? Have you ever thought to ask them how they are? What would you do if you saw your doctor or your child’s teacher at a restaurant? Would it be the same reaction I got so many years ago?
Do you know the problem with this sort of behavior? If they aren’t “real people,” then I don’t have to treat them like people. Do you know why road rage occurs? Because it isn’t a real person you are angry with, it’s a car.
When Desert Storm began and the news shows showed the airstrikes and dogfights on television, I was appalled. One night at a church gathering, I came upon two of our teenagers watching two fighter planes on the host’s television. When the enemy plane exploded, they cheered just like they would have for a touchdown. I looked at them and said, “You do realize you just saw someone die, don’t you?” They calmed right down and looked ashamed. I hope it was real shame.
As long as we view anyone as something other than a “person,” it becomes much easier to treat them badly. I did some research and found that every time Jesus tells us how to behave toward our enemies he uses the pronouns “he” or “those.” Never does he call them anything dehumanizing—like jerk, scum of the earth, dirtbag, or (insert your own personal favorite). And when we resort to that name-calling we will never be able to treat our enemy—or just our inconsiderate neighbor—the way Jesus tells us to. And how does he tells us to treat him? Love him, pray for him, do good to him, bless him, lend to him, feed him, forgive him, give him whatever he asks for—your time, your place in line, your pew, even your driving lane.
You can only do those things for Real People.
Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Rom 12:16-21