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November 28, 2021 | Ed Stetzer
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By Danny Saavedra
My earliest memory with prejudice was from the second grade. One day, my teacher asked the students to draw a picture of what they wanted to be when they were older. I, a bright-eyed, naïve little chap, drew a picture of myself as the President of the United States of America. My teacher took one look at it and said to me, “You’ll never be President with your last name, sweetie.” Bam! Just like that, the dreams of a seven-year-old were crushed, and I didn’t even know why. I didn’t understand why the name Saavedra would prevent me from doing something in life; I didn't get why it would be offensive to anyone, why it would cause someone to write me off, cast me out, and mistreat me.
For those who don’t personally know me, I’m a blue-eyed, fair-skinned Cuban. As people find out I’m Cuban, the first thing I usually hear is, “Wow, you don’t look Cuban at all!” This always puzzles me. I wonder to myself, What is a Cuban supposed to look like? Is there a type? A Cuban mold I don’t know about? But, because of my upbringing, I’m so deeply Cuban to my core—my parents hardly speak English, we ate rice and beans every day, I knew about Jose Marti before I knew about William Shakespeare—that I was always “too Cuban” to relate to my non-Hispanic friends. For years, I felt out of place with everyone, because I’m “too white” to be Cuban, but “too Cuban” to be white. Where was I supposed to fit in?
As I got older, I came to realize that my experiences with prejudice—things like being asked what kind of tacos Cubans make, or where in Mexico is Cuba located, being told that I talk weird, or even being told I could never be President—are absolutely nothing compared to what many other people face every day. When my wife—who is also Cuban—was in middle school living in South Carolina, her and her father, a kind man with a more tan complexion and a noticeable Cuban accent, went out looking for their dog who had run off. They signaled a truck that was passing on the road and politely asked the man if he had seen a dog wandering around, and he responded by spitting at them, telling them to get away from his truck or he'd shoot them with his shotgun, and that he didn't speak Mexican. And while my father-in-law was obviously angered by this encounter, the safety of his teenage daughter allowed him to back up and walk away. I shutter to think of what could have happened that day.
These are a few isolated incidents of prejudice my little Cuban family has experienced. But the truth is these offenses have been few and far between, and in the case of what I've experience, so minor and miniscule when you consider the atrocities that have been committed, and continue daily to be committed against people because of things like skin color, gender, lifestyle, religion, heritage, parentage, and so many other things.
In light of the recent events and the continued senseless and horrifying killing of black people and instances of police brutality against people of color (POC), I have seen a quote being shared on social that states, "I understand that I will never understand." And it's so true. Regardless of how "woke" and informed I become about racial injustice, I will never fully grasp what it feels like to be profiled and targeted, to be fearful of what might happen to my son if he goes out for a jog or goes bird watching in the park. But what I can do—and what you can do—is seek to understand and empathize with my brothers and sisters of color, I can become informed on the issues and the biases that they face every day, I can study the history of the prejudices that plague our country and world, and I can seek to understand the heart of God.
Prejudices and God
Since the days of Cain and Abel, mankind has found a seemingly never-ending list of ways to create division, elevate themselves at the expense of others, stir up hatred, and make others feel less than human. This unmitigated and reckless hate, heinous sinfulness, and disgusting pride stands in complete and utter opposition to the truths of God’s Word. This illogical mentality of racism, sexism, classism, and every other form of prejudice is an insult, an affront, and an offense to the Lord, the One who created the universe. It has no basis in truth; it’s a lie from Satan and an immensely effective tool he’s used to cause devastation and destruction in the lives of individuals, in communities, and entire groups of people. And what’s even worse, is that so many people throughout history have committed this atrocity in the name of God, perverting the Word of God!
Friends, the sin of pride is the ugliest thing on earth. Pride deifies self while dehumanizing everyone else. It’s the complete opposite of who God is! How do we know this? Because Jesus, “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:6–8 NIV).
And it’s the opposite of who God created us to be, because we were made in His image, and therefore were created to reflect His character, qualities, and nature. Pride is the root perversion of all godliness; it’s “the lamp of the wicked” (Proverbs 21:4 ESV).
How could someone read the words of Jesus, see the manner in which He treated those who were different than Him, those whom society had deemed lesser and unworthy, and still espouse such hatred? How does someone reconcile Luke 6:31, Mark 12:30–31, or Matthew 5:43–48 with this mentality? And yet, as crazy and diametrically opposed as it seems, it still happens every day!
For thousands of years, the Jewish people have been constant recipients of this. Dating back to their time in Egypt, the Jews have experienced injustice, slavery, and hatred. Sadly, though, they weren’t just on the receiving end of the hate. For centuries, from before the birth of Christ even into the time of His ministry, the Jews held extremely derogatory prejudices against Gentiles (often referring to them as “dogs”) and even more severely against Samaritans.
Jew and Samaritans: Common Ancestry, Bitter Enemies
According to John MacArthur, “When the nation of Israel split politically after Solomon’s rule, King Omri named the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel Samaria (1 Kings 16:24). The name eventually referred to the entire district, which had been taken captive by Assyria in 722 BC. While Assyria led most of the populace of the ten northern tribes away . . . it left a sizable population of Jews in the northern Samaritan region and then transported many non-Jews into Samaria. These groups intermingled to form a mixed race through intermarriage. Eventually, tension developed between the Samaritans and the Jews who returned from captivity. The Samaritans withdrew from the worship of Yahweh at Jerusalem and established their worship at Mt. Gerizim in Samaria . . . As a result of this history; Jews repudiated Samaritans and considered them heretical. Intense ethnic and cultural tensions raged historically between the two groups so that both avoided contact as much as possible.”
And this continued, as the relationship between Jews and Samaritans at the time of Jesus was anything but pleasant. Peter Williamson Campbell points out that the Jews considered Samaritans as “foreigners and treated (them) like pagans . . . Considered unacceptable and always unwelcome, a Samaritan caused ritual impurity simply by coming into the presence of a Jew. Samaritans regarded Jews as heretics; their Scripture consisted only of the five first books of the Bible.” So, as you can see, Jews and Samaritans were enemies, so much so that Jews avoided Samaria like the plague.
How Jesus Handled Prejudice
This brings us to John 4:4 (NIV), which says, “Now he had to go through Samaria.” Technically, Jesus didn’t have to go through Samaria. F.F. Bruce wrote, “Samaria lay between Judea in the south and Galilee in the north; anyone, therefore, who wished to go from Judea to Galilee ‘had to pass through Samaria’ unless he was prepared to make a detour through Transjordan.” But, due to the feelings Jews had regarding Samaritans, most Jews would have taken the long way to Galilee. Jesus; however, was not the typical Jew, and decided to take the direct route and arrived at Sychar.
I don’t want you to gloss over this, because it’s so profound and powerful. This entire passage is so essential to our view of all people and our understanding of humanity for so many reasons! In this chapter, the Lord Jesus shatters any and ALL arguments of racism, prejudice, and bigotry toward anyone. He makes them all obsolete! You see, the majority of Jews would have never asked a Samaritan for something (for risk of ceremonial pollution) and were even less likely to ask a Samaritan woman—with a woman the impurity was a certainty.
None of this meant a thing to Jesus. Why? . . .
Because “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16 ESV).
Because “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34–35 ESV).
Because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV), so “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves” (2 Corinthians 5:15 NLT).
And most importantly, because “you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26–28 NLT).
We’re all the same before God; we are all equal at the foot of the cross. No one is better, higher, more evolved, or superior over anyone else. In fact, “There is no one righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10 NIV). Jesus died for all of us, because we are all rare and beautiful treasures in the eyes of God. He loves us all with an everlasting, unconditional, inextinguishable love! Jesus came for everyone—man, woman, black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Arabic, European, African, Indian, Jew, Greek, Samaritan, Muslim, Atheist, Hindu, gay, straight, transgender, old, young, rich, poor, slave, free, Pharisee, tax collector, and/or prostitute. In the eyes of God, every life matters equally and completely. Every life is infinity valuable to God and worth the life and blood of Jesus. Christians, let us remember that and act accordingly!
My friends, we need to realize that racism is not a political issue, no matter how much people on every side try to make it. While systemic racism is certainly a civil and cultural issue, racial prejudice is a heart issue and a human issue that involves all of us! And it must be a matter of grave importance to the believer, because it's a matter of our brothers and sisters who carry the image of God and who are deeply and fully loved by God. And we are called to “speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable” (Proverbs 31:8); we’re instructed to “do justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor him who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the resident alien, the fatherless, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place” (Jeremiah 22:3).
As His conversation with the Samaritan woman continues, and He uncovers the deepest parts of her life, the woman begins to wonder, to hope. So, in verse 25, she speaks of the coming Messiah. And Jesus responds by proclaiming Himself as Messiah. Did you know that this Samaritan woman was the first to hear Jesus declare Himself as Messiah? This is a truly significant moment in the Bible. Miracles are one thing, but a Messianic proclamation is truly game-changing. I can’t imagine this woman ever expected to meet the Son of David, the Savior face-to-face. She had no idea at first who it was that asked her for a drink of water, but then she understood how He could make a claim that made Him greater than Jacob, because it was God in the flesh who sat by the well and spoke so compassionately to her.
Folks, the ramifications of this kind of proclamation were enormous! The Messiah had come to a non-Jewish town, inhabited by the enemies of the Jews . . . and it was here that Jesus first proclaimed Himself the Anointed One of God, the Savior of the world. Before the enemies of His people, Jesus demonstrated in no uncertain terms that He had truly come—as He told Nicodemus—for all who believe in Him, to save the world, not just the Jewish people. By bringing salvation and reconciliation with God to the Samaritans, Jesus showed that He was the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, which stated that through His seed all nations would be blessed.
I think we can all admit we’re guilty of prejudice, of some level of racism or bigotry. And my prayer is that we would look at Jesus, put on His heart, take our thoughts captive to His mind, and see things through the lens of the Spirit within us. We must all do some serious, deep examination of our hearts, ask the Spirit to uproot any seeds of prejudice that have been sown within us, confess, and seek forgiveness and reconciliation. Your neighbor may look different than you, but in the eyes of God, you’re the same. Your enemy can be your brother, your foe can be your family, your opposition can be your co-heir!
Remember this and take it to heart: Romans 5 tells us that when we were God’s enemies, Christ died for every single one of us. He doesn’t discriminate, for any reason, and neither should we. So, brothers and sisters, fellow Christ-followers, let’s commit to putting an end to the prejudice that plagues our world. Let’s commit to embracing the love of God for everyone and live it out as fully and fervently as we can!
Editorial photograph by Kathleen Motoa
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.