My husband and I were at the airport waiting for a return flight home as I watched businessmen queue up for coffee. In my wont of quickly assessing people, I pronounced the faces I studied virtuous and hardworking. Then suddenly I heard one of them snap at another near the counter: “You just cut right in front of me!” The accused man apologized, offering his place while explaining calmly that he had not intended to transgress but had thought the first man was taken care of.
I was embarrassed for the first speaker. Now that the situation was clarified for him, and it was clear that the second man had misunderstood the lay of the land and meant no harm, the accuser appeared foolish. My esteem for him was instantly recalibrated.
I recalled a biblical proverb:
“Dead flies make a perfumer’s ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor” (Ecclesiastes 10:1).
“It isn’t fair!” we want to protest. “Why should a little of anything outweigh a lot of something else?” And yet there it is. An impression is not made by the 99 things one does right but by the one lapse.
On second thought, the evaluation is fair enough. The words of the mouth are “deep waters” (Proverbs 18:4), and what one observes of another is the tip of something nine-tenths submerged. “Even a child makes himself known by his acts” (Proverbs 20:11). That is to say, how else can we know the heart but by what the heart reveals, either vocally or behaviorally?
For I also learned something about the other man in the scenario. He could have met fire with fire and railed at the false accusation, but he showed grace. Will he not also show grace later that day in a similar encounter? Hot water does not produce the tea but merely expels what is in the bag.
The lesson for me is to be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). The reason for the slowness, the deliberate delay, is that hastiness in judgment is often wrong and makes a fool of us—those who have jumped to the conclusion that a person has stolen one’s place in a coffee queue, and those who too quickly size up a line of businessman in an airport.
“Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the market she raises her voice; at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks” (Proverbs 1:20-21).