The writer Kathleen Norris* tells the story of an old man she knew who had been diagnosed with cancer. In his illness he had reached for a Bible which had been given to him and his wife on their Wedding Day by his Grandfather. The man confessed that he had never really bothered with it. It was leather-bound with the couple’s names on the front cover. He and his new wife had sent a polite thankyou note but simply placed it on a shelf in their wardrobe.
On opening the Bible, the now elderly and sick man discovered why his Grandfather had often asked them how much they’d liked their present. They thought he was showing signs of ageing but these many years later it was revealed that Grandfather had placed a twenty-dollar Bill at the beginning of every Book of the Bible- over a thousand dollars in all. Because the man had just seen the Bible and assumed there was nothing there to interest him, he (and his wife) had missed out on quite a gift.
We are used to hearing the word ‘prejudice’ quite lot these days in a range of contexts. It literally describes our tendency to hold an opinion or feeling which has been formed beforehand or without knowledge, thought or reason. It also describes the way we sometimes make somewhat lazy assumptions based on the label we can apply to someone (“I recognise your sort!”) and that means we don’t have to think or look more deeply. However, the risk we take is in missing out on quite a gift.
Perhaps with good reason, we don’t like to acknowledge how prone we can be to this kind of attitude but if we’re honest, I believe there are countless ways in which we make lazy and uninformed assumptions about people, things and places. Again, it’s a kind of short-hand but in the end it’s an unimaginative and bland way to live.
It can be quite tragic when we see it for example in a marriage, where a couple no longer think there is anything more to learn or discover about the other. So often it helps to take another look, to ask questions so that we don’t miss out on quite a gift.
There’s an incident in John’s Gospel (John 1.43-50) where Jesus was subject to this kind of prejudice. A man called Philip invites his friend Nathaniel to come and meet Jesus. Knowing where Jesus had come from, he immediately replies, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Mercifully, Nathaniel sets aside his prejudiced view, accepts the invitation and his life is never the same again.
The Season of Lent which begins this month is a good opportunity to have a think about some of our prejudices, some of our automatic assumptions and reactions to things, people and places. In particular, I’d recommend thinking about your assumptions (shall we call them prejudices?) about Jesus. How well do you really know him and all that he said and did? What might happen if you took another look?
Holy Week and Easter (even in lock-down) is an especially good place for discovering what Jesus is all about. Good Friday, in particular (where Christians spend a long time looking at the Cross and listening to the words of Jesus) is the perfect antidote for any sense that he is to be classed as ordinary or of no account.
The Gospels tell us of many people who are called ‘passers-by’ on the first Good Friday. They were people who made this mistake and saw nothing more of interest than the execution of another misbegotten criminal. But those who stayed by the cross, witnessed the way in which he died and looked more deeply, and listened to the things he said saw something more going on – and their lives were never the same again.
This Lent, Good Friday and Easter, take another look at Jesus. And don’t miss out on the gift of a lifetime.
Every blessing, David
* ‘Amazing Grace: A vocabulary of Faith’ by Kathleen Norris (Lion)