Summary: When one man dreams, it is just a dream, but when we all dream together ... ...
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood. ... I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. ... I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."
(Martin Luther King, August 28, 1963)
In Acts chapter 11 we are told that Peter had a dream, and the thrust of these two dreams is remarkably similar!
In a bar in New York there are two guys sitting at opposite ends of the bar eyeing out each other as they sink a few beers. One guy is a Jewish American. The other guy is a Chinese American. After his third beer the Jewish guy takes what’s left of his glass, walks over to the Chinese guy, and pours it over his head saying "That’s for Pearl Harbour. My grandfather was killed at Pearl Harbour." "Pearl Harbour!" the Chinese guy says. "I’m Chinese. It was the Japanese that bombed Pearl Harbour." "Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese - all the same to me!" the Jewish guy says. The Chinese guy then takes his beer and pours it over the Jewish guy’s head, saying, "That’s for the Titanic. My great Uncle was killed when the Titanic went down." "The Titanic" says the Jewish guy, "what have I got to do with the sinking of the Titanic?" "Goldberg, Steinberg, Iceberg - all the same to me!" the man replies.
"Prejudice is the child of Ignorance" said William Hazlitt a couple of centuries ago. For the most part he is surely right, but not in some situations. Having just emerged from two weeks in Israel, I’d have to say that the prejudices that vibrate across that country are deep and complex - not a matter of simple ignorance. When I look at the way battle lines were drawn between different ethnic groups in New Testament times, the situation there is also complex.
The Jews of 1st century Palestine did not mix with the Greeks and the Romans. Why not? Partly because they (the Romans) were an unfriendly foreign power that had invaded their land. Partly because they represented a style of life that the Jews saw as idolatrous and self-seeking and that threatened to corrupt their youth. Partly because Biblical piety demanded that the Jews remain a separate people - distinct in appearance and in lifestyle from their neighbours. And partly, I suppose, because they just looked different.
Visit Israel today and you will likewise find a situation that is complex, yet the reality of prejudicial hatred and violence is everywhere. It was a good learning experience for me - being on the wrong end of prejudice. Being male, middle-class and white, I’m normally well ensconced on the comfortable side of racial tensions. Not so when I went to Israel. It was a first for me to feel looked down upon, to be threatened, kicked and spat upon, though I was always conscious of the fact that I was just a tourist. Others had to live with this every day.
If we had met the Apostle Paul before his conversion - when he was still known as ’Saul’ - we would have found him hard to get on with. Well ... I suppose he would have had no dealings with us. Even so, if we caught a glance from him as he was passing by we would have felt him looking down his nose at us. He wouldn’t have deemed us worthy of his conversation, let along his presence at a meal.
I imagine Peter to be naturally warmer than that. My guess is that Peter would have managed a smile for just about anyone - from his fellow Jews to Samaritan women! Even so, the early Peter would never have consented to sit down to have a meal with us, as he would not stain himself by coming under the same roof as us.
And it’s not a case of simple prejudice based on ignorance. God Himself had given the people of Israel a variety of rituals with which they circumscribed their lives, and the whole point of those rituals was to make themselves different as a people.
To be ’holy’ always meant to be ’separate’ or ’different’. The Jews were self-consciously different. And they wanted to remain different because God wanted them to be different!