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What can Nathanael teach us about prejudice?
For some years in my theological study, I could not understand John 1.45 – 47.
45 Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote – Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.”46 “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” (NIV)
In this text, Nathanael seems to make a negative statement, when he said, I quote, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” yet in the next verse, Jesus seems to compliment Nathanael saying; he is an Israelite indeed a true descendant of Jacob in whom there is no guilt or deceit. (With Nathanael, “What you see is what you get”)
As I pondered on this one day, in a light bulb moment during a quiet time, I got this illumination. Nathanael had a negative opinion of Nazareth because the prevailing sentiment of his days was that nothing good ever happened there. So, when he heard that Jesus was from Nazareth, Nathanael was initially opposed to the idea that Jesus was a true Messiah simply because of where he came from.
So often, like Nathanael, we have prejudice about people based on how they look, dress, speak, where they live or where they came from. As human beings, we can be biased and opinionated often without even realising it. We have prejudice that has been placed in us by others through the things they have said to us. When my daughters were growing up, I used to say to them: “when you fall in love please don’t fall in love with a man with dreadlocks” … Why? This was because in my African cultural context people with dreadlocks are usually associated with drug abuse and violence. Later on, I realised that this is not always true because of my positive experience with someone with dreadlocks.
The thing Jesus seems to like about Nathanael was that although he seemed convinced that nothing good could come out of Nazareth, he was willing to find out. Although he had a strong personal opinion, he had an open heart and mind.
Nathanael teaches us to have an open heart and mind towards people we meet. Let us think of it this way, if Nathanael had been unwilling to open his heart to Jesus; he would have missed the greatest blessing of his life and a great relationship with the Lord. I believe God has blessings in store for us through relationships. So, let us keep our hearts and minds open, give people their deserved chance and continue to be welcoming.
In Christ Rev Lansford Penn-Timity
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