In 1991, I had the privilege of flying with a group of friends from church to Siberia. Our mission was threefold, help build a church, pass out tracks, and host programs at schools and other arenas to share the gospel. No problem. We attempted to learn Russian for six months, brushed up our evangelism skills and even dabbled in preparing borscht.
We flew into Moscow, donned our jeans and t-shirts, and then went to work painting the inside of the new church building. Before leaving for lunch, I asked to use the restroom. One of the women pointed to the back and said, “Talk to Anna.”
I walked a timber path following a wooden fence to a small building where an older woman stood guard. I smiled and asked, “Anna?” The woman did not answer me but waved me over.
Anna grabbed and hugged me, and then flashed a smile, which revealed a full set of teeth – all in solid gold! I flinched. At that moment, her mouth frightened me.
To my chagrin, she caught my shock and backed away. She closed her eyes and then opened the bathroom door for me. I didn’t know how much English she understood, so I walked inside, and she slammed the entry behind me. The room had no fixtures only a large hole that wreaked of urine and feces. I thought this must be my punishment for rejecting her; she wanted me to use an incomplete facility.
I gently opened the door, and Anna stepped aside but did not look at me. “Is the other bathroom unfinished as well?” I asked. The woman turned her head and stepped aside for me to pass. I lightly patted her shoulder, and she bristled. I walked back to the church unsure what to do.
The Babushka and I circled each other the rest of the day. Later in the evening, I spoke to our Team Leader and explained what had happened. Of course, it took him a few moments to stop laughing when I informed him she put me in a room with a hole in it because I rejected her.
After explaining that most Russian bathrooms (at least at that time) did not include commodes, he informed me that Anna found her gold teeth as a symbol of pride based on its cost, longevity, and beauty of the precious metal. In other words, she flashed her gold at me to express her worth. Most Russians (again, at least at that time) assumed that all Americans are wealthy, and her gold teeth, in her mind, became an equalizer in status.
I felt awful. I had not rejected that sweet Russian woman. Later, the Team Leader helped me resolve the matter with Anna, who instantly appeared gentle and forgiving from then on. (She even gave me her piece of marinated animal fat as an expression of love.)
Society leads us to believe that beauty is the determining factor of worth. It’s the gauge of whom we spend time with and whom we give preference to in our lives.
In his blog article, “Will Beauty Save the World?” (linked here) Dr. Al Mohler states, “Beauty itself is not necessarily problematic. The problem is that humans are not good at recognizing true beauty when they see it. In a fallen world, even our perception of beauty has been corrupted by sin. Augustine explained in his Confessions that every human heart is directed to beauty. The problem with the sinful human heart is that we can be bought off by something less than beauty. Of course, Augustine also pointed to the fact that the human craving for beauty was not mere sentiment. Rather, true beauty reveals an objective origin and source of beauty, God himself. Our longing for beauty ultimately reveals our desperate need for God.”
It’s not surprising then that Jesus chose an ordinary form to enter into the world and to represent the face of God. Isaiah 53:2 says, “For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of parched ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we should look upon Him, Nor appearance that we should be attracted to Him.” (NASB)
According to the MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 825, (Jesus) “The Servant will arise in lowly conditions and wear none of the usual emblems of royalty, making His true identity visible only to the discerning eye of faith.” If understood correctly, Jesus did not draw people based on his appearance; people came to him to establish a relationship with him, and to experience his beauty.
Because of the cross, God now looks at us and sees Jesus, who is beautiful. Aren’t we then beautiful in the eyes of the Lord?
Thus, if God has deemed us valuable, how can we not look upon fellow believers the same?