By Bishop L. Jonathan Holston
“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ ‘But what about you?’ he asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’”—Matthew 16:13-19 (MSG)
Have you ever been somewhere with children when they spot their teacher? Or maybe you remember being a student and seeing a teacher out in public for the first time. That a teacher has a life apart from the classroom is a ground-shaking moment of realization for most kids.
For me, “Mom and Dad” were the same people many students called “Mrs. Holston and Coach Holston.” Some knew my parents in the classroom, others at church and still others out on the athletic field or in many of the other roles they served across the community.
In many ways, it is simpler to think of people as their roles, their occupations or their relation to us. Categorizing people by their successes or failures, ups and downs, by their associations with others or by what we have heard, is the easier path. To envision the fullness of another’s life takes effort and intentionality.
In his book, “Just Mercy,” author Bryan Stevenson provides immense relief, saying namely, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” It is humbling to recognize that every one of us has fallen short at some point. Simon Peter, the very rock on which Christ builds the church, is also the disciple who denies Christ three times before the rooster crows.
Envisioning the fullness of another’s life is complicated.
During these years of living virtually, with so many interactions only through Zoom, text message or email, it has taken even more effort to seek the full humanity in one another. We have literally been putting people in boxes. Now that there are more opportunities for in-person interactions, we face a reckoning with those simplified notions that have developed about others.
Reducing a person to one dimension of their humanity is a trap that we often fall into. In the world of social media where appearance is so highly valued, we forget to never judge a book by its cover, or a person by a singular experience or circumstance.
Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest, offers a challenge for each of us as a call to focus our attention differently, namely, “Here is what we seek: a compassion that can stand in awe at what others carry rather than judgment at how they carry it.”
Imagine a world where we are quick to show compassion. Imagine a life lived in awe rather than judgment. Imagine a focus more on one’s “getting back up” than on their “falling down.”
Hall of Fame basketball coach John Wooden painted the picture this way, saying, “There is a choice you have to make in everything you do. So, keep in mind that in the end, the choice you make, makes you.” We can choose to embody the fullness of life and to seek it in others as well. Just as Jesus inquired of the disciples, who do people say that you are?
What if we offered the world an example of how to live differently? May we be slower to label. Slower to reduce a person to a singular dimension. And quicker to listen. To show God’s love, mercy and compassion.
And may our eyes be as awestruck by the image of God in each person whom we meet as a child is to the vision of their teacher in the grocery store.