Summary: What do you know about prejudice? Have you ever experienced it? What was that like? Have you ever been guilty of it? Be careful how you answer – you might be surprised at the truth.
One of the things that I so enjoy about the study of God’s Word is how it is knitted together so finely that there is nothing that doesn’t fit, nothing that is out of place. Our story today demonstrates this quite well indeed.
Preparing for our time together today, I ran into a problem that occurs quite frequently for me: what to title the message. Today’s lesson cost me a bit more time and energy than usual, though.
There are a couple a very strong but different messages that could come from our study of this passage. Let me share them with you, and perhaps we can kind of knit them together and get some real understanding of a passage that has caused a lot of anxiety over the years.
The first title I came up with was, “The Miracles of Christ Know No Prejudice”. Let’s look at that one first.
What do you know about prejudice? Have you ever experienced it? What was that like? Have you ever been guilty of it? Be careful how you answer – you might be surprised at the truth.
Prejudice is a disease of the mind that affects the heart. Prejudice is, literally, a pre-formed opinion, usually unfavorable, based on insufficient knowledge, irrational feelings or inaccurate stereotypes.
Now, there are times when having a pre-formed opinion of someone would be considered wise. A good example would be a known sex-offender who is moving into your neighborhood. If you are prejudiced against that person on a way that has a burning desire to see them kept away from children, then that prejudice is not bad.
There are many times when prejudice or “pre-judging” is not a bad thing. Prejudice against fried foods or a brand of automobile or against foul language is not bad. When prejudice crosses into bigotry, however, we go down a road that Jesus Himself never walked.
If we are following Jesus, we have no business going where He did not and would not go.
What is bigotry? Bigotry is a strong form of prejudice that is hateful and will not be persuaded to see things differently. No amount of reasoning will change the mind of a bigot.
In our every day life, we easily find ourselves being prejudicial towards other people, and that is usually because of some former experience in our own lives.
Let me give you a personal example. For many, many years, I had a problem with anyone with the name of “Larry”. All of the Larry’s I had known in my life had been men who were hateful, selfish and a whole lot of other not-nice things. It was the most natural thing in the world for me to curl my lip whenever I heard that name.
Eventually, I grew up and matured and learned how to take people at face-value – for the most part. But, I still find that there is a tendency to lean a certain way in my thinking if I hear negative things about someone and then am presented with meeting that person for the first time.
We are all familiar with what is called racial prejudice. More accurately, it should be called “ethnic” prejudice, since there is only one race, and that is the human race – but that’s another study for another time.
We are all also familiar with what I call “regional” prejudice. We still see it today between the “Yankees” and the “Southerners”, and that war was over more than 140 years ago.
In Jesus time, there was a very strong prejudice among the Jewish people toward Gentiles. There were a whole lot of reasons for this, most of which had to do with Jewish ceremonial and dietary laws that the Gentiles did not observe. Circumcision was a big one; eating pork was another. There were many, many more.
There was even a short prayer common in those days that went like this: “Lord, thank you that I was not born a Gentile, a woman or a tax collector.” How’s that for prejudice?
In our story today, Jesus comes up against the prevailing attitudes and prejudices of His day regarding the Gentiles, and He deals with it in such a way that it should have settled the matter forever. It did not. Even a casual reading of the remainder of the New Testament will show this to be true.
This is what happened. Let’s read Matthew 15:21-28.
Okay, the area that Jesus has traveled with His disciples to is way up along the Mediterranean coastline, quite far from Gennesaret where we left Jesus and His disciples last time. It is also Gentile country.
This area had been Canaanite for a couple of thousand years. The Phoenicians, the first ocean-going people, were from this area. Later, the Greeks under Alexander the Great conquered and repopulated the area. It had long been a major area of trade and commerce. You may recall some of the broader details we discussed when Tyre and Sidon came up in our study of Matthew 11.