“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. John 1:46
In his autobiography, Mahatma Gandhi wrote that during his student days he read the Gospels seriously and considered converting to Christianity. He believed that in the teachings of Jesus he could find the solution to the caste system that was dividing the people of India. So, one Sunday he decided to attend services at a nearby church and talk to the minister about becoming a Christian. When he entered the sanctuary, however, the usher refused to give him a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people. Gandhi left the church and never returned. "If Christians have caste differences also," he said, "I might as well remain a Hindu." That usher's prejudice not only betrayed Jesus but also turned a person away from trusting Him as Savior.
Our Daily Bread, March 6, 1994.
We all have our own biases. Those biases, however, can become sinful if we allow them to impact our treatment of others negatively. The challenge presented to us by the gospel of Jesus Christ is to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and to love others as we love ourselves. A Christ-centered mind focuses on doing God’s will despite its personal biases. Such a mind does not allow prejudices to define its spiritual footprint in the world.
People of African descent in America know all too well the impact that prejudices can have on an individual, a community, and an entire race. We are still struggling to be respected and have our human dignity affirmed. The prejudices we experience define every aspect of our existence, and in many instances, constrained our ability to reach the fullness of our God-given potential.
When Philip told Nathanael ‘We have found the Messiah, Nathanael responded with prejudice and said, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” People of African descent have been hearing the echo of that statement for centuries. “Can a black person be a CEO, or an effective football coach, or a good basketball coach, or the quarterback of an NFL team, or the President of the U.S, or an effective public speaker, etcetera? When I attended Strasbourg University it was said, can a Haitian American from Elizabeth, New Jersey handle the academic rigor of one of the finest institutions in Europe. The same was said when I applied to Princeton Seminary; when I tried to publish my first book or when I decided to pursue my doctorate degree in Spiritual formation in the Black Church, etcetera. What most Black people have learned is not to allow the attitude of prejudice to define the altitude of our achievements.
Jesus did not condemn Nathanael for his prejudice because He saw great potential in Nathanael. After a brief conversation with the Lord, Nathanael became convinced that Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God. Nathanael learned not to judge a person based on preconceived biases. And that is precisely what disciples of Jesus Christ must do to remain effective in this divisive and caste-based system that proliferates every sector of this country and the world.
Mahatma Gandhi could have become a prominent Christian church leader had it not been for the prejudice he experienced in a Christian church. The usher who refused to give Gandhi a seat and suggested that he go worship with his own people was blinded by his prejudice and could not see the great soul he was snubbing. How many times personal prejudices have prevented us from acknowledging the greatness in others? When that happens, we should repent and make amends so we can honor our commitment to the God who called us to be agents of love as members of the beloved community.
Questions for Personal Reflection
How have your personal prejudices hindered your effectiveness as a disciple of Jesus Christ?
What are some immediate steps you need to take to deal with your prejudices?
Prayer- Blessed Lord, I confess my prejudices and ask for your divine help so I can treat everyone justly. May my attitude be godly in my interaction with people from different races or socioeconomic backgrounds. Please help me to be a bridge-builder and a caste system destroyer so that I can help affirm the human dignity of every person.