We sum up people pretty quickly. We have expectations about them depending on how they
look, sound, even smell. This activity is part of who we are in terms of safety – flight or fight
sort of thing – but once that is assessed, what else we might do can be very varied – and we
can have all sorts of discussions – in fact in society we are! – about racism, sexism, class,
religion, identity politics, and more – because people present to the world in particular ways.
I have numerous stories of how people seeing me as a pastor – largely by clothes – sum me
up based on their expectation of clergy and how at, some point, they admit that I didn’t match
that expectation. (There is humour when we all agree
that their original view of clergy was really a caricature
and hopefully humility – and learning – on my part
when I fell below their (sound) expectation.) Just be-
cause someone says I’m good or bad doesn’t make it
so until there is an agreement about the judgement
and the criteria used to make it.
Police have sometimes been described as occupa-
tional specialists who focus on who’s in place or out of
place in a particular situation and also what behaviour
is in place or out of place. That gives them experience
in helping victims, in following leads and gathering
evidence, while it might also get them accusations of
profiling. Our summing up, discerning, making judgements can be astute or flawed.
How we sum up people affects how we behave towards them. It is here that I think Christians
need to add an ‘extra step’ in the summing up process. This is because everything about
ourselves, our faith, God, Jesus, discipleship, whatever spiritual thing you think of (Baptism,
Holy Communion, prayer, being in church with others) is a reality or a truth through faith. We
can see others who say they are Christians but it is faith and charity that allows us to agree –
and they about us – because we can’t prove it. That there is a Jesus or the Church or that
bread and wine is used by Jesus to be physically, sacramentally, really present with us are all
what we believe and they are true for us and we live accordingly but it is all through faith. We
live by faith and not by sight or as St Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:7 (ESV) ‘we walk by faith,
not by sight’.
So what does that mean when we see people? Well, if we know they are baptised then we
are seeing a sister or brother in Christ. In fact that is the identity that links us – in Christ to-
gether – no matter what else we see. Of course most people’s baptismal identity we don’t
know. They may be ‘family in Christ’ but they may not and thus they are fellow human beings
for whom Jesus died. God so loved the world – the world – that’s everyone in it, even the
people we are seeing – and Jesus told a parable about discipleship about how we follow Je-
sus and serve Jesus – by feeding, giving drink to, clothing, helping, healing, visiting the ‘least’
– and as we did this we did it to Jesus (Matthew 25:31-46). The goal is to help and support,
to be life affirming and enriching rather than harming and degrading (which doesn’t mean we
simply do what they say!).
In the busyness of life it is easy to forget the ‘extra step’ – the extra blink of the eyes – the pause to re-
member who we are and who the person is in front of us – but that is part of living by faith in this world –
seeing what we see all around us and trusting Jesus is with us and seeking to follow him. We follow Jesus
by how we behave towards to
the people around us (think the Table of Duties in the Small Catechism) and the first thing we should
try and do is sum them up quickly through the lens of Jesus.