Prejudice.

Homily 490 – 1st GL
Holy Transfiguration Orthodox Church, Ames, Iowa
March 13, 2022
Epistle: (329-ctr) – Hebrews 11:24-26, 32-12:2
Gospel: (5) – John 1:43-51
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

Can anything good come from there?

Nathanael has an interesting take on being introduced to Jesus of Nazareth. There is a strong preconceived notion about Jesus, based on where Jesus is said to be from.

Maybe we should also examine our own preconceived notions about what people are like, what they are capable of. Let’s call them what they are – prejudices. That is what Nathanael was expressing.

Prejudice.

Now, I don’t know where Nathanael’s prejudice came from. We know there was prejudice in the Jewish community against Samaritans, Romans, and really any other non-Jew. There is a thought that Nazarenes were the “poor Jewish trash” of their day. Identified with a majority race, but of extremely low social and educational status.

Ultimately, it comes down to believing in one’s own superiority over others.

Jesus calls Nathanael out on it. Behold, an Israelite without treachery, without cunning. Without deceit. That is to say, without the things that Satan had in the Garden of Eden.

The same word is used when Jacob stole the blessing of Esau. And again when Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped, and they convinced the men of the community to become circumcised on the promise of giving her as a bride, only to slaughter them as they recovered from being circumcised.

The penalty for this deceit was called out in Exodus 21 – if anyone “willfully attacks another to kill him by cunning” they should be put to death. Cunning is the same word.

In my mind and interpretation of this Gospel passage, Jesus is being sarcastic and calling out Nathanael for his prejudice, by saying “whoa, here is an unbiased man.”

To which Nathanael responds, “Do I know you?”

And we know the rest.

Now, the early Fathers had a different take on things. St. John Chrysostom and others gave Nathanael the benefit of the doubt and thought he had more knowledge than Phillip about the coming Messiah.

Phillip focused on the Messiah being “called a Nazarene.” Nathanael, it is thought, was more knowledgeable and knew the Messiah was born in Bethlehem.

Either way – evaluating, judging people, based on something other than our relationship with and to them is foolish at best, and downright dangerous at worst.

What Nathanael learned, maybe the hard way is that only by “coming and seeing”, only through encountering Christ, can we find the Truth.

When we encounter Christ, without preconceptions and without prejudices or expectations, what we find is the Truth – the Messiah, the one who saves us.

That doesn’t just extend only to Christ, though. It extends to everyone we meet. We don’t truly know them by where they are from or the color of their exterior or the accents they manifest when they speak.

We accept others the way we should accept Christ – without expectations, without prejudices.

Then, we can identify them in truth, as who they truly are. Even that takes time.

Nathanael learned the truth as Jesus produced a prophecy about him. His first impression of Jesus was that of a prophet and king, the Son of God.

Other human beings may not be as quickly manifest to us – and so we have to enter a relationship with them to learn who they are. That may be quick, or it may take years and decades to learn about the person.

In my experience with Christ, it is both. We quickly learn that He is God – He voluntarily died, and rose from the dead, and ascended into Heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father.

But the depths of His love for us, and for others, and for the creation – and His purposes in everything around us, that takes a while to learn, and to incorporate into our lives.

Jesus could, if He chose, make me whole and perfect in an instant. But that would involve my physical death, and that would possibly mean the relationships I have with others would remain incomplete. My work would be yet unfinished.

And when I say “my work” that means “my repentance – my change.” My work is to become as Christ to all around me.

To acquire the Holy Spirit, to become united to Christ – that is what this life is about. That is why we fast and we pray more and we give more during Great Lent.

By doing these things – by denying ourselves and accepting the outcome of that self-denial, we become Christ to a world that needs us. And in Christ, there is zero prejudice, zero superiority, zero self.

No ego.

Doesn’t matter who the person is or where they are from or even what they do or believe. They are loved by God, and therefore they are loved by us.

Are we guilty of prejudice? Are we guilty of thinking ourselves superior to someone else? Then now is the day, now is the time, for repentance.

Then, like Nathanael, we also may see the heavens opened and angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, One God.

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