The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

When I was twenty years old, I wanted to spend a summer abroad, but as a college student I could barely afford ramen noodles. I found work on a communal farm in Israel. For a bit of manual labor, they provided me food, a room, ten dollars a month, and a pack of cigarettes a day. (It was the cigarettes that sold me.)

The weekend before I departed, I heard my first talk ever on being a man. On the way to Israel, I stopped in London to visit some friends. With the talk on manliness ringing in my ear, I swaggered, spat, and unsuccessfully tried to play the man.

During a two-hour dinner party in London, I was introduced to a young woman who promptly deemed me shallow, insincere, and stupid. (I skipped dessert so I could quit while I was ahead.)

A few years later she married a friend of mine, but her opinion of me was chiseled in stone. I once loaned her husband ten thousand dollars; and she suspected me of manipulation. But if I forgot to send him a birthday card, she felt my true colors were revealed.

To her, I was a jerk. And everything I did or said reinforced her judgment.

She Wasn’t the Only One To Misjudge Me

After the dinner party, on the plane to Tel Aviv, I read this verse: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Pr. 17:28). I felt convicted and decided to speak less and listen more.

The following day I began my first job on the communal farm, but it began at 4:00 a.m. and I didn’t have an alarm clock. My roommate promised to wake me, but he forgot.

I desperately wanted to impress my new boss Amnon, but the proverb—When he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent—was still fresh. I decided not to blame my roommate. Instead I apologized without excuse.

The next day, my roommate forgot again, but the verse still haunted me, so I apologized again.

That evening I had a few hard words with my roommate (I didn’t keep completely silent), and he swore he would remember. And then he forgot. To Amnon, I apologized a third, agonizing time. I desperately wanted him to know my circumstances, but I kept my lips closed.

On the fourth night, I “borrowed” my roommate’s alarm. I was the first to arrive for work. Later that day, my roommate secretly spoke with Amnon. He confessed that it was his own negligence that caused me to be late three days in a row.

A New Opinion

Amnon later searched me out and told me of my roommate’s confession. He said, “Sam, the volunteers I work with are shallow, defensive, and overflowing with creative justifications. You are my first volunteer ever to apologize without excuse. I will call you ‘Emet’ [which means true, genuine, or pure].” From that day forward, he called me nothing else.

And he thought I could do no wrong. If I was late, he assumed I had good reason; if I offered an idea, he thought me a genius; if I suggested a stupid plan, he applauded my initiative.

The Tiniest of Influences

Let’s be honest. I wasn’t as pure as Amnon imagined or as shallow as my friend’s wife judged.

Every person we meet is on a path from A to Z. We see them in isolated moments (sometimes between C and D, and sometime between Q and R), and we form an opinion. But we haven’t seen the tiny actions that affect their entire journey.

Every human life is on a trajectory. Occasionally those trajectories intersect—sometimes over dinner, perhaps for a summer job—but we can never know all their life-influences. We only see the snapshot called today, a single frame in the movie of their life. We don’t see the events that shaped this moment.

A New Self-opinion

For years that women’s snap judgment of me felt unfair. Why couldn’t she see me as Amnon did? Today I realized that it is I who had misjudged her.

I don’t know what shaped her life. Maybe she was bullied by a schoolyard tyrant or an abusive father. Maybe I was a faint echo of those past torments. I don’t know. And that’s the point. She may be handling her past with greater grace than I handle mine.

My denigration of her criticism reveals my own inner fraud. Maybe her judgment is fairer than Amnon’s. After all, Jesus didn’t die for me because of my “emet” (purity); the true lamb of Israel died for that pig in London.

A spiritual man doesn’t swagger or spit. He simply admits he’s been a jerk.

Sam

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What do YOU think?

28 thoughts on “The Pig in London and the Lamb in Israel

  1. Sam, you just keep coming up with great insights. I love this paragraph: “Every human life is on a trajectory. Occasionally those trajectories intersect—sometimes over dinner, perhaps for a summer job—but we can never know all their life-influences. We only see the snapshot called today, a single frame in the movie of their life. We don’t see the events that shaped this moment.”

  2. Way to go Emet!! What a fantastic nickname!! Nobody like an Israeli to discover who we really are. The verse “here is an Israelite (mensh) in whom there is no guile.” How about that for a tombstone epitaph?

  3. Thanks for this post, Sam. I confess to being one of those who often makes snap judgments about a person’s character without taking time to know them or their story. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been proven wrong about someone. God is still prying that particular log out of my eye. May I learn the lesson soon!

    • Obviously you know my guilt in this area. I’m just wondering how many relationships I’ve harmed with my snap judgments. Alas.

      But God is greater than my mistakes. There is always hope in the goodness of God.

  4. “Yes. I often have no idea what is the context of that person’s reaction. When I make the effort to be open to the idea that something might be going on in their life, I find that empathy helps me simmer down and forgive. I’d want that grace. The idea of doing the best I can and leaving the results to God works for me. So thank you. Good stuff.”

    We have a site of resources for parents who have children in addiction and a blog of encouragement or at least, how God helped me. Our son is 8.5 years in recovery. Check out: http://www.justkeepgoingparents.com/

  5. Sam, we are finishing your book in Bible study. Since we all sin and sin separates us from God, does that mean we are less likely to “hear” from him?

    • Hi Allen,

      Terrific question. The general principle is that God doesn’t speak to us because of our goodness; he speaks to us because of his goodness. In fact, the very first time I heard God speak to me (chapter 1) was immediately after my “rebellion” in the worst way I knew as a ten-year-old. It actually took God’s word to me to convict me of my sin.

      When Jesus died on the cross, he “took” our separation for us (Jesus cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” from Ps. 22:1) so that we could be re-connected with God.

      So we hear God because of his goodness toward us.

      But it’s also true that I hear God more as I am more engaged with him in a regular way, and living constantly in sin is dis-engaging with God. Repentance makes a huge difference.

      It’s one of those truths we westerners have a hard time holding in our head at the same time (like “God is one with three persons”!). God speaks to us out of his goodness, but it’s helpful (and biblical) to repent for our sins and return to him in humility.

      Sam

  6. Home run, Sam! I’ve walked on both sides of judgment. I’m guilty of perceiving people through a small aperature, if you will, and I’ve been on the receiving end of snap judgments.

    Despite my jerky behavior, the Lord continues to lead me toward deeper conversion. During daily prayer He inspires me to say “Teach me to love as you do, Lord. Help me to see through your eyes, hear your Voice, speak your Word, and heal who’s broken.”

    You are blessed with the gift of storytelling – great insights, wisdom, humor. May God continue to bless your ministry.

    Peace & Joy!

    Your sister in Christ,

    Lori Brown

    • Lori Brown! How wonderful to hear from you.

      You knew me back in those days. This happened the summer of 1978. You can probably perfectly picture me trying to be “the man” and failing (though you graciously will pretend not to remember!).

      You are a blessing. Back at you!

      Sam

  7. Great read! I’ve struggled/struggle with this same phenomenon, in my life. It’s everywhere. Basic example any parents can relate to – some look at me and think I’m a great Mom, others can fill an afternoon talking about how I’m not. Then this basically plays on repeat, in every area of life.

    At the end of the day, everyone judges according to their own set of experiences and expectations – much like your friends wife, and Amon. It’s what humans tend to do. Overcoming this is one of the keys, I believe, in achieving wisdom and finding *true divinity*. Two steps – starting the inside, then out:

    1. Do not judge others or situations. At all. Just observe. This is hard to do. Deepak Chopra once said to “make a point to compliment something about everyone you encounter, or at least wish them joy and happiness in the silence of your mind” which will help keep you from the judgement trap.

    2. Don’t take it personal, or pay mind to how or why someone judges you. It’s wasted energy, that you can spend putting into the worship and remembrance of what really matters

    Miss you, Emet!

    • Hi Mona,

      For those of you who don’t know Mona, she and I worked together for years. My judgment of her? She is the real deal, inside and out. (You can’t hide for long from your colleagues!)

      I love you comment: “Just observe.” Why is that so hard for us? We want to comment, critique, correct, impart wisdom, and judge. I like your suggest: just observe.

      And I like your closing line, where we waste energy on what doesn’t matter instead of putting it into worship and remembrance of what does matter.

      Thanks Mona. Miss you too.

      Sam