Sometimes I only have one opportunity to make an impression on someone. I can focus on making a good first impression of myself or I can focus on giving a good first impression of Jesus. I prefer the latter because I am more comfortable drawing attention to Him than to me. I didn’t used to be that way but I am that way now.
I also follow a good rule of writing: “Show…don’t tell.” Good story writing involves describing a character or event through examples. Jesus used parables for that very reason. Joseph Campbell says myth, stories that tell truths but use events that may have never actually happened, are excellent ways of conveying wisdom…universal truths. Fans of Uncle Remus and Aesop know that stories about animals are effective ways of describing typical human behavior in an entertaining and non-confrontational way. Likewise, Jesus told parables that were not attacks on anyone but could convict the human heart.
When I meet someone who does not know me, my best effort is to behave the way Jesus would toward that person. As I seldom interact with religious leaders, I don’t usually address people as hypocrites, blind guides, or blind fools. You will find Jesus using such terms in Matthew. When Jesus talked with ‘common folk,’ as we are, He spoke gently and with love. Even when He addressed the woman at the well, whom He knew was an adultress, He didn’t call her names, He said, “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” No sneering, no rancor, no attacks, no condemnation…simple fact to point out that He knew to whom He was speaking. He did not even mention that she was ‘living in sin.’
I am quick to point out, however, that Jesus has a right to point out her situation. I do not feel authorized to dance so closely to judgment. If necessary, though, I will point out fact if doing so would would lead into constructive criticism. For example, last fall, I did observe a young manager criticize a new employee. It embarrassed the employee and was not in any way helpful. I called the manager over to my car and quietly, and in a kind tone, pointed out, “When the young man came over to my car and asked if anyone had spoken to me, no one had. When you criticized his decision of where I should park, you cut his feet out from under him. If you want to move up in management, you should motivate and empower your team mates, not demoralize them.” My daughter and I went by that same facility yesterday and the young manager remembered me with a big smile and she cheerfully went out of her way to take good care of my daughter’s needs. (The story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well is found in the Gospel of John.)
Now, you may have noticed that with the young manager, I did not quote scripture, nor did I even mention Jesus. I may, in the future, visit the facility again and when I do I may hand her a business card that has the url of this website….or I may not. I will have to determine at the time if the situation feels right for it. Sometimes I introduce Jesus; sometimes I just try to behave like Jesus…until the right opportunity presents itself.
I am all about the Hippocratic Oath of “Do No Harm.” When I have only one opportunity to make an impression on someone, the Last thing…no, the thing I Never want to do is turn someone away from Jesus. Condemnations, attacks, threats, warnings, accusations (almost) Never work. (I added ‘almost’ out of respect for my previous essay, “Generalizations are Generally Wrong.”) Jesus rightfully attacked the religious leaders of His day. I am not Jesus. Those religious leaders were (in their own eyes, anyway) the most righteous people in Israel. Only Jesus, truly the Most Righteous human ever, had the authority to call them down. I ain’t righteous. I ain’t Jesus. It ain’t my place.
By the way, the image at the top is a photo I took while on the boat with my brother this weekend. The boat we were on was moving at near top throttle to the right. The boat I photographed was clearly moving at (or near) top throttle to the left. I took one frame. The image is not cropped. Notice the nearly static images in the background. (Fellow photographers will appreciate these details.) I had one opportunity to make this shot.