This is a terrible thing to say, but I have become convinced that there is not a single person living in this world who does not struggle in some form or fashion with prejudice.
I took a women’s studies class in college, and they gave us a few questions to ask ourselves in order to “test” whether or not we held any prejudices. The following are a couple to consider:
1 – When standing in line at the grocery store, the person in front of you becomes impatient and begins shouting and swearing at the cashier. In your mind, what opinion is formed of this person if he/she: – is a caucasian female? – is an African American female? – is an Asian American female who speaks with an accent? – is a Mexican American female who speaks with an accent? Now change all of these to male. Is it the same opinion for each person?
2 – If you see a group of older teenage boys walking down the street toward you, do you become more or less nervous if those boys are: – caucasian? African American? Asian American? Mexican American?
It seems to me that one of the most crippling effects of prejudice besides our treatment of other people is how it changes our expectations of other people. I’m not sure which is more damaging – to expect more from a person because of his or her nationality/race, or to expect less. I wonder if the human tendency towards prejudice is not one of the biggest trials we face as children called to serve (regardless of whether those we’re called to serve have a similar or much different background from our own).
I’ve only started looking at this, but it is interesting to me that, in general, Jesus did have a tendency to treat different groups of people differently. His expectations for the Pharisees is a major example for me. I have asked myself recently, “Why did Jesus show so many individuals compassion and mercy, but then continually give rebuke to the Pharisees?” Jesus grew up under the oppression of the religious leaders (i.e. Pharisees) of that time. Anybody else in history would have probably felt bitterness and prejudice towards that group of people as they became an adult. Did Jesus?
Several examples are helping me work through this a little (I think), and to begin to distinguish between my own actions, which are a result of my prejudices, and those of Jesus Christ, which were not:
Matt 15:21-28 – The faith of the Canaanite woman – In this story, a Canaanite woman (considered a foreigner to the Israelites) came to Jesus and asked Him to heal her daughter. Jesus’s initial answer was, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” To that, Matthew says the woman came and knelt before Jesus and said, “Lord, help me!”
Jesus then said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” She responded, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Jesus’s response to this is very interesting, because it seems that He actually changed His mind upon observing the spiritual condition of the woman, and did, in fact, choose to heal her daughter.
Another example is Luke 7: 36 -50 – The story of the woman who anointed Jesus’s feet. You may recall that Jesus had been invited to dine at the house of a Pharisee, when a woman showed up with a jar of perfume and began anointing Jesus’s feet with the perfume and with her tears, wiping them clean with her hair. According to Luke, the Pharisee who had invited Jesus said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is – that she is a sinner.”
But what did Jesus say? “Do you see this woman? You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet… Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” (both verses paraphrased and italics added)
In reading these accounts, two thoughts occur to me:
First, there does seem to be another significant similarity between the two women on whom Jesus had compassion, besides their being marginalized from the Israelite society: both women showed true repentance in the presence of Jesus Christ. Neither woman seemed to feel worthy of the blessing they sought from Him.
Secondly, I wonder – how would the story of the Pharisee be different if he had gotten up from his seat, knelt down in front of Jesus, and wept?
In my life I have been blessed tremendously by the amazing family and friends God has provided. But, there are for me (as I think for everyone) a few individuals in my life around whom I feel particularly safe. A few who I know wouldn’t even notice whether I drove up in a brand new car with my brand new dress on, or if walked up covered in filth and stinking of alcohol. In either case, I know they’d just be happy to see me, and they’d wrap their arms around me and they’d tell me they love me. And what is more amazing to me about this small group of individuals who’ve taught me the most about grace and unconditional love, is that only a couple of them are actually involved at all with the church.
Oh, God – continue to gracefully reveal to me and heal the deep layers of my prejudice, and teach me to lay down every lens through which I view my world – they are so heavy after all.