I heard once that Jesus liked to use parables (simple stories used to illustrate a lesson) with the Hebrews because they were visual learners. A lesson made a bigger impact with them if it was told in "pictures". I must be part Hebrew. I, too, like object lessons, word pictures. And God, knowing me so well, understands this and faithfully gives me object lessons in my day to day living.
The most recent and memorable lesson came on a spontaneous trip to the local dollar store. I was preparing some freezer meals for my grad school son and ran out of ziplock bags. (Isn't it interesting how the brand name of a product becomes the generic category for all things similar?) Since I was right in the middle of my preparations, I decided to make a quick trip to the nearest store that would carry such a product, the local dollar discount store. I don't on a regular basis shop at this store. Most of the time I stop there because I just need one or two items and don't want to make the incredibly long 8 minute drive across town to the mega discount place!!! (Oh, the joys of small town life!)
I arrived at my destination and parked my car assuming that this was going to be one of those uneventful, unimportant, mundane moments in my stay at home life.
Because at the same time as I was getting our of my car and approaching the door to the store another car had pulled into a parking space right in front of the door and it's occupants were getting out and approaching the same door. Nothing unusual except that the two "gentlemen" that were walking down the sidewalk right ahead of me now were anything BUT usual. It was obvious as I came closer that these two guys had very little female influence in their lives. (At least that is what I inferred.) Neither one had "seen" a bar of soap in a while and their garments had not "seen" the inside of a clothes washer for some time. My nose told me so! One man definitely needed a belt for his britches and they both would have benefited from a trip to the barber shop.
Ya get my drift!?!?
At the moment my senses came to this realization I started planning on how I could avoid meeting up with them at the entrance. I could walk slower; pretend I forgot something in the car and turn around; stop and "check" the text messages on my phone. But the next moment, God's voice inside of me said, "Mary, what is the topic of Bible Study this week?"
The study in the book of James for that week covered Chapter 2, Verses 1 through 13.
My brothers and sister, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?
James 2:1-4 (MSG)
So I quickly asked myself, "How would you respond, Mary, if these two guys were dressed in beautifully tailored suits and Italian leather shoes, wearing Giorgio Armani cologne, looking like they had just stepped out of an upscale Los Angeles hair design studio?" Well, other than wondering what the heck were these guys doing in my small town Nebraska, I imagine I would gladly walk right into the store with them. Thus, I kept right on walking behind these fellow dollar store shoppers and much to my surprise when we reached the door one of them politely opened the door, stepped aside, and held it open for me with a friendly smile on his face. I returned his smile, looked him in the eye and said, "Why, thank you!"
Score one for me! But before I throw my elbow out of joint patting myself on the back let me tell you the rest of the story.
I proceeded to walk to the back of the store searching for the freezer bags, wondering where would be the logical place for them. Not finding them in that section I turned around to explore another area when, low and behold!, here came my two scruffy "friends" heading down the same aisle towards me. I made a rapid exit stage right into the next aisle to avoid another encounter. Score minus one for me!
Feeling a slight twinge of guilt I continued on finally finding the food wrap and bag area. As I stood there debating whether I should buy the 18 bag box or the 10 bag box, this brand or that brand, who should appear to my left at the end of the aisle but......"Smelly Guy Who Opened The Door For Me".
And the guy looked at me and asked (drum roll, please),
"Do you know where the ziplock bags are?"
I looked at him (with my mouth agape, I'm sure), looked at the shelves in front of me and said, "Umm, right here", pointing at the boxes of bags.
"Thank you. I'll let my friend know......Hey, they're over here!"
In an amazed state of mind, I made my selection and headed to the registers, paid for my purchase and headed to my car in the parking lot. And then I just sat there, still amazed, processing what I had just experienced.
Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized that God had given me another object lesson. I had just been a part of a modern day parable. You see, He says in James that to show partiality is sin. (James 2:9) And He had just given me the opportunity to chose between showing partiality or extending mercy. I'm not sure if I passed the test. Maybe I scored a 50%, maybe more, maybe less. But the moral of the story stabbed me right in my heart.
I sat there thanking God that He had urged me to keep walking when I encountered the guys in front of the store. I wondered how did it happen that at that exact moment, I and the two men arrived at the same store at the same time with the same purpose in mind-to purchase ziplock bags. I wondered why did these two people, who didn't seem to be the kind of guys who would even know what a ziplock bag was, ask for them by name, the exact same name I call them.
Regardless of the outward appearance, we are all the same in some way or another. If I take time to consider others I will find a common ground with them which will lead me to be merciful, to not discriminate based on the world's value system. That is the point that James (Well, actually God) was making in the second chapter of his letter.
We are all just looking for ziplock bags.