Prejudice is always the ugly counterfeit to true discernment and good judgment. 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.
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.
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:
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 Nathanael, 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.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!” Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You shall see greater things than these.” And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man.”
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.
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 gets 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, 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, 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.