Lent. And Prejudice

Have you ever hesitated to answer the question of where you come from? Or have you ever thought that you could gain insight into person’s character by asking where she came from? How often we unthinkingly fall into the trap of stereotyping people and expecting them to do the same to us, simply on the basis of what we think we know–what “everybody knows” about that particular place and its residents.

John 1:43-51
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and 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.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 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.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.”

Swallowed words seldom taste good. Most of us can imagine all too well how Nathanael felt after uttering the words reflecting everybody’s opinion of Nazarenes and then encountering Jesus, who responded by setting Nathanael’s head spinning with what he knew about him and his most recent activities. So much for the stereotypical Nazarene; this man is something different, something way beyond the norm, something regal, in spite of appearances and place of origin that would argue otherwise. Nathanael probably blurted out of his embarrassment something he had heard from Philip; like us, when found out in his prejudice, he needed to cover it with a gushing comment in the opposite direction. Ever been there?

I recognize that the primary focus of the John here is not to speak about our prejudices and how they expose themselves; his point is to continue the process just begun, of fleshing out the magnificent words of the “Prologue” (vv. 1-18), of demonstrating the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth. Yet we should not read the biblical accounts each time as though we had no knowledge of how the life of Jesus moves through his teaching, healing, confronting, scolding, challenging, embracing of people, all culminating in his suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension. At the climactic point of the first resurrection appearance among the disciples—including this Philip and this Nathanael—he commissions them with the words, “as the Father has sent me, so I send you.” (20:21).

Today’s point is very simple. As we allow our thoughts and feelings to come under the scrutiny of Lenten reflection, the searching of our spirits by the word and character of Jesus we must ask where we are more prone to respond to other people out of our prejudices or out of grace. Will preconceptions continue to automatically incline us to think of ourselves in the better position, or will we be open to the truth about both ourselves and the “other”? Will we allow the commonly held opinion about “those people” to overshadow the reality that we have been sent to each and every encounter to give grace and demonstrate our knowledge of the One who is Truth? The more we respond as Jesus, the more we’ll see the heavens open and the Son coming down.