Will Rogers is recorded to have said, “We are all ignorant, just on different subjects.” I would suggest it is equally true that “We are all prejudiced, just on different subjects.” Prejudice means to pre-judge. It is to make a judgment of another person or group of people based on superficial evidence. I’m afraid we all do it. We meet one or two people from some particular religious group that are haughty, judgmental and hard to deal with and we determine that everyone who is of that religious group is haughty, judgmental and hard to deal with. We do it with races of people. If we meet two or three people from some country that are lazy, always begging for help and live off the welfare of others, we tend to decide that everyone from that place or that race is like that. If we think for only a few minutes we realize we wouldn’t want anyone judging us in that same way. By the way it goes the other way as well. Several years ago there was a tornado that hit in our area and immediately after it was over a group of Mennonite men were in the area with chain saws and trucks cleaning up yards and helping people who had lost a whole lot. People who knew nothing of the religion itself, suddenly had a very positive feeling about them because the only ones they had any knowledge of had been there to help when they needed it.
Do you remember the story in John 1 when Philip, a new disciple of Jesus went to his friend Nathaniel to tell him about Jesus. He said to him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel’s response is classic, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Jesus responded to Nathaniel in a way that set all his prejudice aside. “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” Nathaniel then asked, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” “Then Nathaniel declared ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are king of Israel.” Just reading this it doesn’t make sense that Jesus seeing him under the fig tree would lead to him saying that Jesus is the Son of God. The reason is that the fig tree often had branches that reached all the way to the ground and a person wanting to be alone to pray or think might get under the fig tree where they weren’t visible to anyone to spend time with God. For Jesus to say, I saw you under the fig tree meant to him that Jesus was able to see through the brush and witness his prayers so he believed in him and became one of the apostles of Jesus.
Why did he have such prejudice toward Nazareth? There could have been a multitude of reasons. We can’t be sure which it was. Maybe the only people he had known from Nazareth were crooks. But it illustrates how our prejudices can lead to us making totally wrong decisions. He was ready to dismiss Jesus as the Messiah based on him growing up in Nazareth.
In John 4 when Jesus and the twelve went to the town of Sychar in Samaria and Jesus taught the woman at the well, the disciples returned from getting bread ready to move on to Galilee where the Jews were. Jesus challenged their prejudices with this statement, “Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest?’ I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” Right after Jesus said this the crowd of people from the city came out to plead with him to stay and tell them more after the woman and gone back to town to say “Come see a man that told me all that I ever did. Could this be the Christ?” The disciples were so intent on getting to the next place where they could teach and make disciples that they overlooked entirely where they were. Prejudice made it impossible for them to see the Samaritans as prospects for the gospel.
How do you overcome prejudice toward groups of people? The only way I know of is to actually get to know individuals in the group for whom you have prejudice and learn that your prejudgement of them was totally wrong. Having grown up in the deep south during the fifties and early sixties it was easy for me to have prejudice toward those who were black. But I became good friends with a fellow preacher of the gospel who was black and began to be around friends of his and even preached for the church where he preached and had him preach for me in meetings. The closer our friendship became the more I knew that all that prejudgment that I had made toward a race of people was not only wrong but sinful and I repented of the very thoughts. All people are created in the image and likeness of God Almighty and all people have an immortal soul. Jesus tasted death for everyone and commanded us as his disciples to “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved. He who does not believe will be condemned.” Matthew’s account of this commission literally says, “As you go therefore, make disciples of every ethnic group, baptizing them into the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”
The very notion of us feeling prejudice toward one made in God’s image and bearing his likeness is insane. For one to try to justify such an attitude is totally outside the realm of human reasoning. How can one even think of being prejudiced toward someone for whom Jesus died on the cross?
I hear people go back to the Old Testament to talk about God having a chosen people in the Jews. He had a chosen people because it was through the descendants of Abraham that the Messiah or Christ was coming into the world. They were not to intermarry because it would destroy the ability for the Christ to come through that seed. But, someone will say, didn’t God command them to utterly destroy different groups of people? Yes, but it wasn’t because of their race or color. It was because they had gone so deep into sin, idolatry and gross immorality that God saw no way to bring them back. If you go back to see the sins these people were involved in such as offering their children as burnt offerings to their gods it is obvious why God said to destroy them. Read the short book of Jonah where God sent Jonah to Nineveh the capitol city of Assyria. His message was that he was going to destroy them in forty days because of the depth of their sin. But they repented and God forgave them of the sins, to Jonah’s displeasure.
The church today is to be made up of all kinds of people. For the church to be the most segregated place on earth each Sunday is horrible. Certainly people have the right to worship with the people they want to worship with. But if they don’t come where we are because they don’t feel welcome there, it is a sin against God and the people. From the time the gospel of Christ reached the Gentiles in Acts 10 on the churches were made up of people from all backgrounds and they met together in homes wherever they lived. Hospitality meant inviting those into our homes that were different from us and loving them as brothers and sisters in Christ. God redeemed Nathaniel who was prejudiced. He redeemed the other apostles from their prejudice. He ever redeemed Saul of Tarsus who was a self-righteous Jew and turned him into the apostle to the Gentiles. He can redeem you too from any and all the prejudices of your life. Will you let him do so?