“Don’t Judge by Externals (Koh 10,7)”

by John Wijngaards, GEMS OF WISDOM Series in the New Leader, 9 November 1975; in Telugu Bharata Mithram, 19 October 1975

“Slaves I see on horseback, Princes going on foot like slaves.” (Koh 10,7)

The author of the booklet Kohelet was a realist. He had an eye for the incongruities of life. He saw people getting rich even though they were lazy. He heard praise being given to those who did not deserve it. He observed how some people began with nothing and end. ed up being kings, while others who had ruled a kingdom, were reduced to poverty and forced labour.

This is what he meant with the above quotation. In his days only the very rich and powerful could afford to ride on a horse or to be carried in a palanquin. Seeing a former slave riding on horseback or a king going on foot was like watching the whole world being put upside down. It was a total turning of the tables, a revolutionary reverse of luck.

God is in Charge

The unexpected course events may take, demonstrates that nothing in life is definite. Everything depends on God’s providence. However much a king may feel sure of his power and authority, one day God may interfere and change his position overnight. By the same unpredictable swing of fate God might raise an ordinary person to the throne. “The Lord has thrown down rulers’ thrones, and seated the humble in their place” (Sir 10,14). “Many monarchs have been made to sit on the ground and the man nobody thought of has won the crown” (Sir 11,5).

It is a fact we can rightly rejoice about. Human dominion does not last. Only God is King forever. Frequently he raises the poor from the dust. Our Lady sings about it in her Magnificat: “He has pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly” (Lk 1, 52). Mary is so grateful about it, because she knows this is what God has done to her. “The Almighty has done great things for me” (Lk 1, 49). From being an ordinary girl like anyone else, she was raised by God to be the mother of the King of Kings.

Another thing we can learn from it is that we should not judge our neighbour by his external appearance. Far too many people are esteemed simply because they are rich and can afford to wear expensive clothes and show off their luxury. Far too frequently a poor man is not given respect simply hecause his clothes are tattered. “A poor man is detestable even to his neighbour, but a rich man has friends and money to spare” (Prov 14, 20). “A poor man is hated even by his brothers” (Prov 19, 7).

Looks Are Deceptive

What a terrible mistake to make! Samuel had ‘almost committed this blunder when he wanted to anoint Eliab instead of David because he looked much more impressive by his external appearance (1 Sam 16, 4·8). The two disciples walking to Emmaus talked to the “stranger” for many hours before they recognized that he was Jesus (Lk 24,13-35). Wisdom demands that we should look at the inner worth of the person, at what she is, not at the clothes she wears. How different the world becomes for us when we learn “not to praise a man for. his good looks, nor to dislike anybody for his appearance” (Sir 11, 2). We will discover that the world is full of interesting people. We will recognize many a king even though he goes on foot.