The Zoo Cage Prophet
Labels by Adrian Torres
"The labels came off these." The store manager held up two cans of roast beef. "They are not old or expired. The labels came off, that's all."
I was a bit suspicious, but I only had $8 to spend (my monthly earnings for working 150 hours) and I wasn't going to debate the person who knew her product. "Okay, I'll take them," I said to her. I also added two packs of Peanut M&Ms and a bag of refried beans (dehydrated.)
I walked off excited, thinking about the wonderful roast beef I would be enjoying that night. And to go with it, a nice-sized helping of beans. For dessert, M&Ms.
At night I took out one of the unlabeled cans and heated it up in my hot pot. I prepared the beans by adding 3 jalapenos (sliced in wheels) and 7 yellow hot chiles. (What? I’m Mexican.) I opened a pack of M&Ms as I waited.
About 15 minutes later I removed the very hot can out of the boiling water and prepared it to be opened. My mouth watered just thinking about the delicious roast beef that waited inside.
I took the can opener and clamped it onto the lip of the can. My mouth now watered even more. The can opener’s one claw pierced violently into the lid, causing it to bleed out the juices that were trapped inside.
Seeing the juices bleed onto my fingers brought of tsunami of saliva in my mouth. I felt rabid. Animal-like. Very Fred Flintsone-ish. So I cranked the can opener even harder. Even more hot juices majestically flowed down my fingers. Such a beautiful mess.
Too much of the can's nectar was on my fingers, so I paused the cranking to lick them.
Strange. It didn't taste like roast beef juice. So I took another – but slower – taste. Yup, it wasn't roast beef but beef stew. My mouth went dry.
I finished opening the can and confirmed what my taste buds were telling me. What a letdown.
I don't dislike beef stew; it's just that I had my heart set on enjoying roast beef. I still ate the beef stew with thanksgiving, but it wasn't the same. Even my heat-packed beans felt bland.
Labels on cans are important. I've learned my lesson. I'll never buy unlabeled cans again.
Labels are good for many things, like for organizations. Clothing. Gas or diesel. Men's and Women's restrooms. Labels are good, but not on people. Labeling people is very hurtful.
When we label, we judge, and make ourselves better than those we label. If the label is ugly enough, it causes the "labelee" to be boxed in.
As an inmate I have been labeled many things by staff – by other inmates – by society – and even by my own family. The worst label, however, is that which is placed on inmates the minute they are sentenced. Murderer. Molester. Rapist. Thief. This is the label you are known by from that day forward. A label one can't remove.
This is the label other inmates use to judge who you are. Eventually this label causes separation, hate, depression, and violence. This is one of the reasons prisons are so full of hate – because some crimes – sins – are viewed more favorably than others.
The night of my Mystery-can Surprise, after eating my beef stew, I sat on my bunk (yes, while eating my second pack of M&Ms) thinking how Jesus hung around a whole bunch of labeled people. He purposely befriended tax collectors and sinners, two groups with the ugliest and lowest labels in His day. Yet He publicly was seen with them and never really cared what others thought.
The Pharisees did their best to discredit Yeshua by pointing out how He hung out and ate with them. But what the Pharisees didn't care to understand was that Yeshua left heaven to find, and dine with, the lost – the labeled. It wasn't a surprise to Him. Yeshua knew and expected others to judge Him for his actions. Yet He continued anyway.
He wasn't afraid to get down and dirty with the outcasts. He purposely embraced them to change their labels from "Sinners" to "Saved."
I wonder how many of us are purposely staying away from the labeled? Not wanting to be affiliated with the outcasts? Shying away for the sake of our reputations? If we are to be like Jesus, and are His disciples, why aren't we seeking the labeled?
You probably know someone, or have heard of, a labeled person to whom you could actively reach out, yet you don't. Why not? Are you better than he is?
Let's not forget that we too had the "Sinner" label on us. Yet Yeshua tore it off and graced us with a new label, sealed by His Holy Spirit, that reads "Saved."
There are many labeled souls out there who are waiting for your non-judgmental love.