A Kind FBI Agent
Years ago, I learned an unforgettable lesson about respect. I became acquainted with an FBI agent. One of his duties, to the best of my recollection, was to escort prison inmates between federal courts and facilities for trial or incarceration, often on regular airline flights. He spoke to these felons with kindness. He listened to them. He asked them about their lives. He afforded them dignity. He treated them with respect though by many standards they did not deserve respect.
Sometimes they would see him at a later time. They would call out his name as if he were an old friend. The fact is, he offered them the first token of meaningful friendship: respect.
I have thought about this for many years. From this good man’s example, I learned that you can offer respect to others even though by the world’s standards they have not earned it. I have also come to understand that respect is the foundation all lasting relationships, for without it, you cannot have trust. And while you may love someone you don’t respect or trust, you can’t have a safe, lasting relationship with them.
Jesus and the Woman at the Well
Jesus was the perfect example of showing respect. I’ll share one story that demonstrates it well: the story of the woman at the well in John 4. He was traveling with His disciples through Samaria, on his way from Judea to Galilee. The Jews generally distrusted and disliked the Samaritans and the Samaritans returned the favor. When they came to the city of Sychar, Jesus rested by Jacob’s well as the disciples went into the town to buy food.
Soon a woman came along to draw from the well. When Jesus spoke to her, asking her for a drink, she was taken aback. “How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria?” she said. “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”
Jesus persisted. “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water.” He was offering her the message of the gospel. After some discussion, the woman softened and asked for the precious water Jesus offered. Then came the test. Here’s how the conversation went.
Jesus saith unto her, Go, call thy husband, and come hither.
The woman answered and said, I have no husband. Jesus said unto her, Thou hast well said, I have no husband: for thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband: in that saidst thou truly.
The woman saith unto him, Sir, I perceive that thou art a prophet.
Jesus knew her sin and called attention to it, but he was gentle with her. He did not condemn her or belittle her. He invited her to drink of the waters of life freely. But he was frank in His assertions about her spiritual status: “Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.”
The woman responded humbly, “I know that Messias cometh, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things,” to which Jesus replied, “I that speak unto thee am he.” This is one of the earliest occurrences of Jesus testifying directly of His divinity.
As the disciples returned, “the woman then left her waterpot, and went her way into the city, and saith to the men, Come, see a man, which told me all things that ever I did: is not this the Christ?”
The disciples were nonplussed. They marveled that he spoke to the woman, but they didn’t know what to say. Soon, many came out from the city to meet Jesus and hear Him for themselves. Jesus and His disciples spent several days there and many Samaritans believed.
Jesus was not harsh, accusing, or vindictive toward the woman. He was respectful, kind, and patient, but he was not reluctant to tell this woman directly of her sins and errors.
Rejecting the Sin but Accepting the Sinner
Jesus accepted people but He did not accept sin. Out of His own mouth He declared “I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance” (D&C 1:31). There is nothing in the scriptural record to support the notion that He said or did anything to support sinful behavior, but there is ample evidence that He was kind, tolerant, and accepting of the sinner.
This is what true Christians strive to do, but opposition to sin is not hate, no more than acceptance of the sinner is sin.
I recently spoke to a man who had a near death experience. He told me that as his life was examined in great detail, that he felt nothing but love and acceptance from the Savior. Are we justified in showing anything less? We are capable of less, to be sure, but we are not justified in it.
Try as I may to overcome my own weaknesses, I don’t have the power to right my own wrongs. But when I finally learned to love and accept myself, flawed and imperfect as I am, I also found it much easier to accept and love others.