Facial Message

What’s in a look? Apparently, a lot less than we see. Or more. Has someone ever read your facial expression wrong? accused your look of meaning something that couldn’t have been further from the truth? Probably. I know I’ve both misunderstood that nonverbal cue and been misunderstood. Why the disconnect?

A person’s emotionless stare may be for no other reason than that the facial muscles are impaired. Or someone’s neurological disorder has pasted a permanent aloofness on the face. Maybe someone links anyone’s pursed lips with an embarrassing or degrading experience locked in the past, and the prefrontal cortex isn’t sorting out the distinctions. The subconscious can trick our brains to make judgments that are erroneous.

Dr. Luke, the New Testament physician, says that Jesus, early on the morning of his crucifixion, gave Peter a look:  “And the Lord turned and looked at Peter” (Luke 22:61 ESV). Suddenly face to face with Jesus after having denied knowing Him for the third time, what message did Peter decipher?

Was it disappointment? surprise?  No. For less than twelve hours earlier Jesus had predicted this outcome when “Peter said to him, ‘Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ Jesus answered, ‘Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times'” (John 13:37-38 ESV).

Was it anger? Jesus sounded anything but angry when he had confided to Peter, “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32 ESV).

Was Jesus’ look saddling Peter with guilt and shame? That attitude was never in His nature. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17 ESV). Also, “I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows)” (John 10:10 AMP).

So was it a look of sympathy that melted a proud and boastful Peter to humbly weep in bitter repentance? No.

It was compassion, an attribute of His character that Peter had observed for three years as Jesus did more than feel sorry for people’s needs. Deeply moved with compassion, He restored, healed, preached, taught, fed, returned corpses alive to grieving families. Compassion is what Peter saw in Jesus’ face, compassion for a sinner for whom He was going to die on the cross, where He compassionately prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 ESV). 

For reflection:  “Be honest in your judgment and do not decide at a glance (superficially and by appearances); but judge fairly and righteously” (John 7:24 AMP).

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