Jesus and prejudice

first_img Sharing is caring! By Father Henry Charles Ph.d Share Share 101 Views   no discussions FaithLifestyle Jesus and prejudice by: – March 29, 2011 Tweet Share Photo credit: student.gsu.eduI would like to take a brief hiatus from writing about Lenten themes to focus on something implicit in today’s reading, namely, how Jesus dealt with prejudice.  We’re told early in the narrative that Jews and Samaritans did not get along — Jews didn’t “associate with” Samaritans.  Jewish travellers in fact usually took the long way around Samarian territory, to avoid meeting their neighbours.Jesus, on the other hand, goes through the town. We are also told that when the disciples returned from shopping for food, they were surprised not so much at seeing Jesus talking to a Samaritan, but talking to a woman in public.So you have two elements of prejudice here, one, relations with Samaritans, and the other, dealing with women in public.The first and most obvious thing to note is Jesus’ openness and freedom. He was remarkably free of the prejudices operative in his society at the time, whether from ritual or more social grounds. He associated with and visited the homes of public sinners; he reached out to people socially disenfranchised, including lepers; he mixed easily with women, as he does here. Women were in fact among his more loyal followers. They were the first to think of anointing his body after he died, and the first to get to the tomb.The list is quite familiar to us, but the question posed by his life is: how do we deal with prejudice ourselves? We ordinarily assume that we are prejudice-free. We assume that we “like” everybody, or that we treat everybody “the same.” It’s amazing in the light of these assumptions that society is still so full of prejudice, against “dem UNC people,” or “dem PNM people” or “dem black people,” or “dem Indians,” who are not on “our side” and not “our kind of people.”  I hardly need to note the tremendous animosity that still affects the lives of gays or persons of a different sexual make-up. It’s often not just prejudice but downright hatred, and our prejudice-free society is full of it.Prejudice operates in generalities and feeds on stereotypes. It is always a matter of all black people, or all white people, or all gays. It’s always ALL, not just this black person, or white person, or this or that gay person — never the particular, always the general.The key element in Jesus’ dealings with others, on the other hand, was regard for their individuality. He didn’t deal with types or representatives, but with individuals; that was how he saw them, and the way they reacted to him indicated an appreciation they didn’t get much of.  What they experienced was a difference in treatment.  The hairs of your head are all numbered, he said on one occasion, and that meant not the heads of a few or the heads of my kind of people, but the heads of everybody.I said that prejudice operates with generalities; it also thrives on ignorance. I often wonder how many (black and other non-Indian) Trinidadians know what the flags outside Indian homes signify. I’m sure there are blind spots on the other side too.  Many years ago, at the farewell organized in the parish where I lived in the US, a white parishioner (they were in fact all white), came up to me and said: “Father Charles, can I touch your hair?” “Of course,” I said, “go right ahead.” She went through my hair, putting the texture through her fingers etc. I thought about it much then and later. It was clearly something she always wanted to do, out of sheer curiosity. She couldn’t do it ordinarily, but she knew me and felt that I wouldn’t mind.The episode, in a sense ordinary as it was, reflects what prejudice routinely sanctions, namely, an ongoing basic ignorance of “the other.” We work side by side, sit near to one another in church, but we know little about how one another lives; how we feel individually, or how we cope.One important corrective to prejudice is to accept or acknowledge the fact that the world is diverse.  In fact, diversity is its basic configuration, not uniformity. An obvious consequence of this is that must be how God intended it. He didn’t make any two nations or cultures or peoples alike. The same with individuals.  He made us all different, and so in a host of ways.Getting past prejudice thus includes recognizing that each person is unique, that there is no such thing as a general human being. God treats with us one by one, and respects us as individuals. Let us return the favour in respect of one another, starting with a group or a set of persons we are inclined to see or refer to only “in general.”  Think of them and treat them as individuals. It’s a fail-safe way of getting closer to God.last_img

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