In the Eyes of the Beholder
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Picture yourself driving down a country road, not in any hurry, and making good time—you’ll get back home even earlier than you planned. You see a sign on the roadside: “Farmer’s Market—2 miles ahead.” You have the time, so you pull in to the market. There’s a series of wooden stalls occupied by vendors selling fresh produce, home-made treats, little knick-knacks—nothing out of the ordinary. You come to the last wooden booth in the row and survey the items for sale here, too: Canned Peaches—5 cents a jar! Peach Preserves—10 cents a jar! Whole Peach Pies—20 cents each!
Wow! These are absolutely amazing prices! But then you notice the bucket full of rotting peaches sitting just beyond the pies. You step closer because you can’t believe your eyes. The smell is bad enough, but the flies swarming around it make you come very close to losing your lunch! A price tag dangles off the bucket: “$1,000 per bushel.” Your obvious look of confusion mixed with disgust grabs the attention of the elderly gentleman in denim overalls sitting at the cash register nearby. He raises a grizzled eyebrow and asks, “Can I help you?”
“Yeah,” you reply, “would you mind telling me how you can sell all these wonderful looking pies and jams for hardly anything, but charge such an obscene amount of money for this bucket of rotten fruit?”
“Well now,” says the old farmer, a slight grin threatening the corners of his mouth, “It seems to me you’re putting your values on my merchandise. But it just so happens I price everything based on what it’s worth to me.”
Value, Worth and Preciousness
We automatically make judgments on something or someone’s value without even realizing we’re doing it. But should we really treat other people solely based on how much they are precious, valuable or important to us personally? As Christians, aren’t we called to a higher standard of how we treat others?
We must treat all people according to the value God places on them, not the value we place on them. But what does this even look like? The story of King David and Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 9 shows us a very good example of it. Here we read that David had been king for many years by this time, had seen many wars and was famous as a great warrior-king among all surrounding nations. He was finally settling down to a more peaceful time in his life. Then he asks his servants to find out if anyone of the house of Saul is still living.
The only one left was a man named Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. According to monarchy standards throughout the world, Mephibosheth would have been considered the rightful ruler, as he was the grandson of Saul and the son of Jonathan, Saul’s heir. It is not difficult to imagine that this man could have even attempted a coup if he did not recognize David’s right to be king.
You can imagine, then, what Mephibosheth must have thought when King David’s servants came to summon him. What fear and trembling would overtake you, to think that you are the last living person of your entire household, which was led by a grandfather who had tried to kill, on numerous occasions, the very man who has summoned you to his presence as king! Undoubtedly, Mephibosheth was expecting to be executed by King David, and very few would have blamed David for cutting off the last survivor of Saul’s family, thereby ensuring that his power on the throne would remain unchallenged.
His greatest fears, however, were instead replaced with joy and relief. David remembered the life and loyalty of his dearest friend Jonathan, whom he considered a brother, and the covenant he had made with him so many years before (see 1 Samuel 20:12-17, 42 and 24:20). He sought out Mephibosheth because he was moved to honor the friend by showing the son deference. David not only restored all of Jonathan’s property to him, but also fed him from the king’s table, a very high honor. David placed on this man the value that Jonathan would have had for his son.
The Value God Places on Mankind
We’ve all read many times that: “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17).
This scripture may seem to be “overdone” in mainstream Christianity, but if we stop to truly consider what it means, it is very powerful. It has personal meaning for me, too, now that I am a parent. When I think of how much my baby son means to me, and how painful it would be to lose him, much less to give him up willingly, I better understand just how much God values all of us. He truly gave His most precious possession when He gave His Son for humankind.
We read that “the Lord is...not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God places immeasurable value on all of mankind. In His eyes, we all have the same spiritual potential, no matter where we come from or what sins we committed before we answered His call to repentance. He sees beyond the past and present to the day when we can truly meet our God-given potential.
God’s Standard: Are We Sheep or Goats?
In Matthew 25:31-46, we read the parable of the sheep and the goats, which illustrates that when Christ returns to establish His Kingdom, He will base His judgments of us, at least in part, by how we have been treating others of the faith. The righteous among those being judged (the sheep of the parable) will protest that they have not done all the good things for Him that He said they did. Being modest, they ask, “Lord, when did we [do all these things for You?]”
The Lord responds by saying, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.”
But for those who thought they were doing all they needed to, it came as a shock that Jesus would not receive them, and that they would be considered among the goats. They protest, in fact, that they would have done “all these things” for Christ if He had needed their help. But then we see His answer, in verse 45: “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do [it] to one of the least of these, you did not do [it] to Me.”
How very sobering to realize that Jesus Christ considers our treatment of other people, and specifically those within the body of Christ, equivalent to our treatment of HIM! We should need no further testimony to our obligation to treat all people according to the value God places on them, not the value we place on them. And for good reason, too. We, being influenced by the societies that surround us, might be tempted to place more value on those in positions of power or influence within the Church, those with great wealth, or those who we get along with the best. Only God sees the heart.
A Mathematical Corollary: The Transitive Relation
So, if we love God as much as David loved Jonathan; and if God loves all of mankind as much as Jonathan loved his son, then should we not love all of mankind as David showed love towards Mephibosheth?
How much more should we show that love towards the household of faith, the very Body of Christ of which our church organization is but a part: the very same Body that Jesus is referring to as “My brethren” in the Matthew 25 parable.
Back to the Farmer’s Market
After telling you that he prices things according to their worth to him and not you, the old farmer pauses for a moment to let you digest such an absurd business philosophy, and then continues, with a smile:
“You see, those canned peaches, peach preserves, peach pies…they’re good, but once you eat ’em, they’re gone—they’ve got nothing else to give. Now that bucket of rotting peaches there, even though you might think it’s worthless and ugly, is full of potential. Each one of those pits at the heart of each peach, whether pretty or not on the outside, can grow into a peach tree one day. If those trees make it to maturity and are pruned up right, they produce bushels and bushels, year after year. Some thirtyfold, some sixty and some a hundred.”
The Challenge Today
We’re so often focused on the flesh, the exterior of the peach, which may be either beautiful or bruised, and that’s how we tend to judge and value our fellow man—whether it’s the people we work with, people in other churches of God, or the people sitting next to you at church services. God focuses on our hearts, the core of the peach, and only He knows who is capable of producing good fruit.
Originally, I had started to write the outline for this article several months ago as the basis for a speech in my congregation’s Young Men’s Christian Leadership Club. I thought I had come up with a good premise for my speech and was looking forward to delivering it in club. But then the trouble of December 2010 happened, the bulk of my speech club left and I never had the chance to give it. In some ways it’s like God was saying to me: “Mike, you can write it and you can preach it, but can you actually LIVE it? Right now?” That is the ongoing challenge for me and all of us.
We must overcome treating people according to the value we place on them. Rather, let us work to treat our fellow man based on the beautiful potential and value that God sees in them. At one time or another, we have all been the fallen peach, rotten and wasting away. What would our lives be like if our merciful Father had not plucked us up and planted us? How grateful we should be that He saw beauty in our potential, and that He loved us while we were (and are still at times) so unlovable!
So the question remains: Can we live it? The answer, of course, is “Yes!” With Christ, all things are possible! If you, like most of us, face problems in actually doing this all the time, go to Him honestly with your struggle to love your brethren. Ask sincerely that God open your heart to truly love your brethren as He intends. May you be wonderfully blessed through His answer.