Wearing the Same Skin
“Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.” -Romans 12:16
In Harper Lee’s American classic, To Kill a Mocking Bird, the protagonist’s father, Atticus Finch, is a middle-aged widower and lawyer, who defends Tom Robinson, an African-American man falsely accused of rape. Finch made famous the statement, “You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
Harper Lee was writing from experience when she wrote the novel that won her a Pulitzer Prize in 1961. Her own father had been a southern lawyer who defended two black men accused of murder.
In the novel, Tom Robinson is wrongfully convicted (and shot trying to escape) just as the men her father represented in real life were believed to be. In real life, her father, devastated, never tried a case again. The experience also had a lasting impact on then-10-year-old Harper Lee, as her writing demonstrates.
Finch’s statement is a reconstruction of the older Cherokee proverb, “Never judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes (moccasins).” But in each maxim the ideas are the same. Both reflect the heart of Paul’s command to never be haughty, and always be humble, so you can live in harmony with one another.
Interestingly, the words haughty and harmony share the same Greek lemma (form), phroneo, which means to think with a particular manner of thought or disposition. The difference between the two is whether one takes on an elevated disposition (ho hypselos phroneo) and sees everyone else below him (haughty), or the diminished disposition (ho autos phroneo) and sees everyone else at eye level or higher (harmony).
In Paul’s day, social classes looked more like the oriental caste system practiced in countries like India and Pakistan than modern Western society.
Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he calls Christians to reflect the gospel by seeing themselves on the same plane as everyone else regardless of their station in life. And it’s not difficult to do when we realize we all fail spiritually, that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.
We can live in harmony regardless of skin color or social status when we embrace the fact that we all have the same access to God through the same gospel—the good news about Jesus, who 2000 years ago, climbed into our skin and walked around in it, then died and rose to life again to receive all who trust him.
Lord, we are in desperate need of harmony in our homes, in our churches, in our nation, and around the world. Recognizing true harmony is possible only because of Christ’s work on the cross, we pray the good news of the gospel would permeate our hearts and saturate our world. We pray this in the name of Jesus, Amen.
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 Lee, Harper. To Kill a Mockingbird. J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1960
About Scott Postma
Scott lives in North Idaho collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. He shares valuable tips on writing and teaching, rich insights into theology and literature, and meaningful perspective on living a life of significance. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.