When you look at people, what do you see?
Recently I heard a speaker suggest that our perceptions of people typically lump them into one of three categories: Hands, Heads, or Hearts. Let me explain what this means.
When we view people as “hands,” we’re perceiving them as means for getting things done. Not much different than regarding a knife or fork for eating; shovel or hoe for gardening; or hammer or nail for doing home repairs. Basically, people are regarded as tools or mechanisms for accomplishing projects, goals and objectives. We can consider employees or coworkers in this way.
Viewing people as “heads” means they serve as measurements for success or effectiveness. We talk in terms of “head count.” On social media, we don’t really know most of our “friends” and contacts, but get excited by each one that “likes” something we’ve posted. Film producers eagerly anticipate box office reports of how many “heads” went to see their movies. Elections tally how many “heads” cast votes one way or another. Even churches are tempted to view congregants as “heads” – professions of faith, baptisms, members “joining the fold.”
The third alternative is to see people as “hearts” – real-life individuals, with faces, names, and genuine needs physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual in nature. I don’t recall in the Scriptures where Jesus ever saw people as hands or heads. But He definitely viewed them as hearts. In fact, that’s what stirred His own heart.
In John 11:35, we read the shortest verse in the English translations of the Bible: “Jesus wept.” It was right after the death of His friend, Lazarus, and He had just told the dead man’s sisters, Martha and Mary, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die” (John 11:25-26). So why was He weeping?
The passage doesn’t specify the cause of Jesus’ tears – it might have been out of sympathy for the sorrow family and friends were feeling. He may have pondered how such tragedies ultimately were a consequence of the sinfulness of humankind. Jesus might have been responding to the reality that even though He soon would raise Lazarus from the dead, the man would have to die again. And of course, the Lord knew His own death would be necessary for the forgiveness of sins and salvation of those who would believe in Him.
No matter the “why,” it’s clear Jesus focused on the heart of the matter – and the hearts of people He encountered. Crowds of people (heads) surrounded Him one day, as recounted in Luke 8:40-48), but when a woman plagued by a bleeding problem for many years reached out, He responded to her heart’s deepest needs.
When He met a woman at a well in the Samaritan town of Sychar, Jesus spoke to her not only of her physical need for water, but also the spiritual thirst that had gone unquenched in multiple relationships. When He asked her to give Him a drink, Jesus did not see a “hand,” but a heart that had suffered a lifetime of pain.
In 1 Peter 2:21, we’re told Jesus left us an example so we should “follow in His steps.” He also instructed us to “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). Could one way of doing that be to make certain that when we see people, we see hearts – and not just hands, or heads?
Years ago I heard someone explain the difference between “liberal Christians” and “conservative Christians.” Liberal Christians, he said, see “soulless bodies,” meaning their concern was primarily for the physical, temporal needs of people. Conservative Christians, he said, see “bodiless souls,” meaning they seemed to care little about people’s earthly concerns but focused on spiritual, eternal needs.