I am a church leader in his 60s who is continually understanding how much he still must learn. Over the last few years I have discovered lots about prejudice, especially my own. I have become aware that our prejudices impact how we view everything, including CSE. Judgements about young victims on the basis of their gender, ethnicity or background all affect how adults see them, and whether or not they get the help they needed. And we judge one another in the same way too – ‘He looks dodgy’, ‘She can’t be trusted’.
Becoming aware of my own prejudices has enabled me to see my scriptures in new ways, and I’ve come to believe that prejudice is the enemy of the good news of Jesus. At the time of Jesus, the Jews were prejudiced against Samaritans, a large group of people living between Galilee in the north and Judea in the south.
Samaritans believed they were the true Israelites, and that the rest of the nation of Israel had got it wrong by moving the centre of their worship to Jerusalem at the time of David. They saw only the first five books of our Bible as being from God.
The rest of Israel had a different view of their history. They saw Samaritans as the remnant of the northern kingdom of Israel, taken over by Assyria, who had intermarried and whose true faith had been corrupted.
This differing understanding of history caused lots of conflict and feelings of superiority between the two groups, despite very close proximity. This is the context to several incidents reported in the books of Luke and Acts.
In Luke 9 the disciples were “rebuked” by Jesus for asking for fire from heaven to come to destroy a Samaritan village. The word rebuked is most often used when confronting demons. The footnote, ‘you do not know what kind of spirit you are of’, also suggests that Jesus considers the disciples’ anti-Samaritan prejudice to be demonic.
In chapter 17 Luke describes the healing of 10 lepers, with only one returning to thank Jesus.
The leper colony had Jews and Samaritans – suffering together had broken down the boundaries. The one who came back was the Samaritan. Nine Jews did not come back to say thank you. The Samaritan fell on his face and worshipped. The Outcast was fully well.
This would have challenged Jesus’ followers, a Samaritan being the example of something positive.
Then into the Acts of the Apostles, also written by Luke. At the very beginning of the book Jesus tells his followers,
“Wait in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit comes on you then you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and the ends of the earth.”
But despite this they stay in Jerusalem and Judea for around a decade until we hear in chapter 8 that the good news is finally preached in Samaria. Even then it is as a result of persecution, and by Philip who was from a Greek background without the same prejudices. Peter and John are sent to investigate as they were suspicious. The power of prejudice!
By the end of the chapter even Peter and John are preaching in Samaritan villages. Prejudice is being overcome.
I have kept the most well-known story involving Samaritans until last, the parable of the Good Samaritan told in Luke 10. Typical Jewish stories were about a priest, a Levite and then the hero an ordinary Jew – like our Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman stories. Although as Jesus told it the hero wasn’t an ordinary Jew but a Samaritan!
A man is beaten up by robbers and left for dead by the side of a road. A priest and a Levite pass by doing nothing, it is a Samaritan who took care of the man, binding his wounds and taking him on his donkey to an inn in Jericho where he paid for him to stay. The Samaritan reversed everything that was done to the man. The priest and Levite hurt him by neglect, the robbers by violence. The Samaritan risked his life by taking the injured man into a Jewish town, Jericho. We are not told if he came out alive.
Jesus asked his hearers to put themselves into the story and asked ‘which of the characters represent you?’ The implication is that they are not the Good Samaritan but the man who was robbed. Jesus is the Good Samaritan. The story totally undermines all their prejudices, if only they have eyes to see it.
Let us never underestimate the power of prejudice and how difficult it is to overcome, even to see it. This is true even if we are people of faith, even if we are Christians. Living in Luton and getting to know people of all kinds has helped me become much more aware of my prejudice. It has helped me see the extent to which prejudice distorts our sight and is helping me see more clearly as a result.
When viewing CSE let us beware of our own and others’ prejudices!
Tony Thompson, FACES co-chair