I’M Not Prejudiced! (Am I?)

“Prejudices, it is well known, are most difficult to eradicate from the heart whose soil has never been loosened or fertilised by education: they grow there, firm as weeds among stones.”
CHARLOTTE BRONTE, Jane Eyre

Prejudice is always the ugly counterfeit to true discernment and good judgement. But we humans all too often confuse these realities to our own detriment. As a man who has grown up in the American South, I can readily attest to the sickness of prejudice in society, in communities, and in my own heart.

In fact, it wasn’t an unusual sight in some parts of Georgia to see a billboard warning black citizens to “not let the sun go down on your head” as a way to tell them they better be out of town before the sun went down. The fear mongering and hatred was simply part of the society.

By God’s grace, in my own area of the South, I have witnessed the powerful changes that have occurred in society as education and authentic Christian love has replaced the ignorant prejudice of the past. And yet, if we were really honest with each other, you and I would have to confess that, in too many instances, our hearts and heads still harbor prejudiced attitudes and thoughts.

It is the way, in our fallen world, that our minds “fill in the blanks” of our ignorance with fearful assumptions about the “other;” those different than us. And yet, people ARE different. That isn’t the problem. The differences can be disconcerting, they can be challenging, and they can even be offensive. But usually these differences are minuscule in comparison to our commonality. We really are MORE alike than we are different!

In our Gospel Lesson today, we see even a future Apostle and great disciple of our Lord Jesus as he faces his own prejudice. Look at John 1:43-51. Here we meet St. Philip and St. Nathaniel, both of whom become Apostles of the Lord and great heroes of the faith. Today is the feastday for St. Philip and it is such a joy to be able to read about this great hero as he confronts his friend with that friend’s spiritual blindness. The Gospel declares: “At that time, Jesus decided to go to Galilee. And he found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathaniel, and he said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” Nathaniel said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathaniel coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!”

Notice three distinct actions that reveal the hearts of each person.

First, notice the actions and words of St. Philip. Having found Christ, Philip naturally shares this “good news” with his dear friend Nathaniel. And when Nathaniel objects to the Christ coming from a particular part of the world, Philip doesn’t condemn Nathaniel. He doesn’t rebuke Nathaniel. He doesn’t play on their friendship and get defensive with his friend (“Don’t you trust me, Nathaniel”). Philip doesn’t make the conversation about himself. He keeps the focus on Christ and says to his friend “Come and see.” Brilliant, Humble, and Confident, all at the same time! A+ Philip!

Next, notice the actions of Nathaniel. When told the “good news” of the Christ by his friend, Nathaniel immediately reveals his own heart in his response to his friend. He reveals that his friendship with Philip isn’t nearly as important to Nathaniel as his own ego and ideas. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathaniel’s friendship with Philip is overshadowed by his prejudice and his own ego. But when Nathaniel is confronted by Christ, another trait of this great man is revealed. He is willing to admit when he is wrong. He is quick to repent. And all this reveals that Nathaniel’s prejudice isn’t stronger than his integrity and his love for God. Thank God!

Finally, notice the actions of our Lord. He knows Nathaniel better than Nathaniel knows himself. He knows and loves Philip and reveals this by seeing into Nathaniel’s heart and immediately revealing why Philip loved and trusted Nathaniel in the first place. Nathaniel was an “Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Jesus affirms both Philip’s good judgment in befriending Nathaniel and him bringing Nathaniel to Christ and He affirms the deepest truth about Nathaniel himself. Nathaniel is the “real deal” and Christ knows Nathaniel’s shallow prejudice will wither in the Light of this encounter with Christ.

Today, dearest, know that an authentic and continual encounter with Jesus Christ will always burn away the shallow prejudices of our hearts. The closer you get to Christ, the more spiritually disciplined you become, the more the true nature of everyone you meet will be apparent to you. You will see people as they are rather than as they fear they appear, or as you foolishly assume they are.

The death of prejudice and the wisdom of true discernment and discretion flows from a heart that, first, loves God and longs to be close to Him, and, second, sees everyone else through the gentle and loving Eyes of the Lord we love.

Today, put away ignorance for true knowledge, and this true knowledge isn’t in books or even science. True knowledge and the death of ignorance always begins when love is allowed to break up the shallow and hard “ground” in my own heart. Today, allow the love of God to smother the foolish fears of ignorance and prejudice.

3 comments:

  1. Hello again, Fr. Barnabas. I am these days loath to do disagree with an author on his Web page, but your interpretation of Nathanael’s heart and motives troubles me. I see nothing in the text that indicates the kind of even mild malice or prejudice that you suggest—or indeed with respect to prejudice state outright—and likewise there is nothing in there that says Nathanael has any sort of disdain for the opinion of his friend the Apostle Philip. Quite the contrary, Nathanael comes across, if much emotion can be taken from the text, as a rather cool customer, as they say.

    Consider also St. John Chrysostom’s homily on these very verses, which can be found in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. St. John points out that Nathanael, if he was aware of prophecy (which he almost certainly would be), would have believed from such sources as Micah 5 that Christ should come from Bethlehem rather than Nazareth. Thus he says, in response to Philip’s claim that Christ has come from Nazareth, Can any good thing [as in, the good thing Philip has claimed, the one that Moses and the prophets wrote of] come from Nazareth?

    Now, I wouldn’t propose that one source, even one so venerable as Chrysostom, settles the matter, but I find his reading quite a convincing one, and I also, as I said, just see nothing in the text itself to support the presumption that Nathanael bore some prejudice or was egoistic in any way. So, something for you to consider.

    1. Thanks Virgil. I appreciate the insight and am always open to hearing another perspective. And it is as you say, Chrysostom does settle the matter.

      However, I would offer that prejudice doesn’t necessarily require malice. It simply requires a lack of information to breed a misunderstanding. A lack of information that Philip wisely offers correction to with “Come and see.”

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