When my grandfather died, I went home for the funeral. I took with me some dress slacks that I needed to have cleaned for the visitation. Driving around, I found a place called One Hour Cleaners. That sounded perfect because I needed those slacks that very evening.
I walked in with my laundry on a coat hanger and smiled at the woman behind the counter. “I’m from out of town, and I’m really glad to find this place,” I said. “One Hour Cleaners, right?”
“Yes, sir. That’s us.”
“Just to make sure we’re on the same page, you can do these pants, right?”
“Of course we can. Yes, sir.”
“So I can leave them with you right now. Then I can go get some other things done, then come pick them up in an hour or so, right?”
“No, sir,” she said, squinting as if I’d said something odd. “But you can pick them up tomorrow.”
“Um, but your sign says One Hour Cleaners.” I pointed through the window to substantiate my charge.
She chomped her chewing gum a few times, then said, “Yeah, but we don’t clean clothes in one hour.”
“Then shouldn’t this business be called Next Day Cleaners? Or Whenever It’s Done Cleaners?”
She just chewed her gum and squinted at me. Clearly this was a strange new request by a customer. Laundry back in an hour from One Hour Cleaners? What will they be demanding next?
I tried discussing it with her, always politely, from several angles, hoping we could at least enjoy the irony of it together. But she saw nothing remarkable about the situation. I wanted to say, “I don’t think those words mean what you think they mean.” This was my hometown. Maybe I’d been away too long and the language had evolved beyond my understanding in these parts.
Or maybe it was just another case of false advertising. Nobody likes it when someone advertises one thing and delivers another—commercially or otherwise. The outside of the establishment should give us an accurate expectation of what we’ll find on the inside.
Then again, once we apply this to ourselves, it’s a little different. It’s one thing to talk about businesses with false claims. It’s another to look in the mirror and ask whether we really show the world exactly who we are.
We struggle with authenticity because we fear rejection. We want the world to see us at our very best, because then people are more likely to accept and possibly even admire us.
Maybe we don’t need to try so hard or hide any of our blemishes. Maybe people will like us just the way we are. It’s even possible they’ll be more drawn to us if they know some of our failings and struggles. They could say, “I’m like that too. I have the same issues. I’m glad to know there are two of us.”
But that’s a risk we won’t take. Fear is the enemy of transparency. We don’t like our flaws, and we don’t expect anybody else to. So we work hard at putting up the most impressive front we can.
Then we come back to that sermon Jesus preached on the mountainside. Before moving on from the Beatitudes, let’s examine one more of these upside-down blessings.
Jesus has been telling us that the kingdom of God is in favor of the ones at the bottom of the heap, the ones who are last instead of first; the poor in spirit, not the arrogant and powerful; the meek and gentle, not the pushy and overbearing.
In that sermon, Jesus actually has a lot to say about the difference between the outside and the inside. He says what really matters to God is what’s inside, where we transact our real business.
He says people spend a lot of time working on their signage for the world to see, but God comes right in to see what our true policies are.
Jesus puts it this way:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matt. 5:8)
Kyle Idleman, The End of Me: Where Real Life in the Upside-down Ways of Jesus Begins (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2015).
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