UNREASONABLE PREJUDICE AND UNBELIEF
T. PIERCE BROWN
In Mark 6:6, we find this brief statement about Jesus, “And He marveled because of their unbelief.” Having read that for about 65 years, a new question came to mind. Why would He marvel at unbelief? It was nothing new. Persons all around Him evidenced lack of faith under all sorts of situations. Even His brothers did not believe in Him (John 7:5). Most of this unbelief was a result of prejudice.
Most of us have prejudices of one kind or another. Many of us are probably unaware that they are prejudices, for they seem to us logical likes or dislikes if we think of them at all. The basic idea of prejudice is pre-judging. That is, one accepts or rejects something without looking at the facts properly and making a rational decision based on those facts.
Note some of the things that made their unbelief a thing at which to marvel. First, it says that He came to His own country. He had been there about 30 years, playing, working, growing, and going to school in this little village. They knew nothing in His past life that was inharmonious with the idea that He was a prophet of God. The fact that He had gone away and had done wonderful works, showing His power over death, demons, disease and nature should have convinced them that He was not an ordinary man. Even among them, He had healed the sick and had taught with wisdom and power like no other man had. They could not deny those facts, which would allow no other rational explanation than that He was from God. They asked, “Where did He get all that wisdom and power?” It had to be from God or the Devil, and they knew it could not be from the Devil. Yet their blind, unreasoning prejudice caused them to reject the evidence that it was from God, and magnify what they presumed to be a difficulty.
Note the difficulty. “Is not this the carpenter?” They were not rejecting Him because they despised the trade or found something offensive in a person working. They made some philosophical or semantic blunders that are more common to all of us than most of us realize. That is, they applied a name or label to Him. Then they reacted to that label as if it defined what He was. Then they responded to the assumption that the label they used was not only what He was, but was essentially all He was.
Let us look at some examples that may clarify those blunders in our responses, and some of the consequences of that sort of blunder. In Luke 7:36-50 we have the story of a Pharisee who invited Jesus to eat with him. A woman who was a sinner washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and anointed them with ointment. The Pharisee classified her in one certain way, and was blinded to the fact that she could as aptly be classified in other ways. He said, “She is a sinner.” As far as he was concerned, the label that he applied to her was adequate and complete. If he had been asked, he might have said, “That is what she is, and that’s all there is to it.” The truth is, she could have been classified as properly as a lover of Christ, a penitent woman, and various other ways. We should be able to see the difference in our responses if we think, “That is what she IS,” and “That is one of the ways she may be classified.” You may respond, “Luke said she was a sinner and that is good enough for me.” We need to realize that the structure of the language we use often determines the way we think and act. When I was a boy, my mother would set before me a plate of food and say, “It is good.” If I replied, “It is not good,” I was in the awkward position of contradicting my mother, which was not usually acceptable. If I replied, “It does not taste good to me,” that merely suggested that my taste was not the same as hers, and was acceptable. There is even a difference in thinking, “She WAS a sinner,” and “She IS a sinner.” But part of the point I am making is that when we allow the limitations of our language to limit the way we actually respond to reality, we are more likely to become prejudiced and blinded to reality. When we say something IS something else, it is easy to respond to the word as if the word actually IS the thing, instead of merely being one way to represent the thing.
Do you not see that when the Jews said, “He is a carpenter,” or “She is a sinner,” they responded to their classification as if it defined the person, rather than responding to it as merely one of the labels that might be applied. Then they reacted to the label rather than to the person.
How many thousands of times this kind of prejudice has blinded persons to reality, we will never know. A man may move into our neighborhood. It could be said about him, “He is a good worker. He is a wonderful Christian. He is a kind husband. He is a good father. He is a friendly person. He is financially well-to-do.” Anyone certainly would like to have such a man as the next door neighbor. Then you hear, “He is a Jew.” Or, “He is an Afro-American.” Thousands will now respond to that one label as if it completely defined the person, and react to the label as if it were the person. Persons have been persecuted or killed because of a label attached to them, when another label would have been as easy or appropriate to apply.
I remember an occasion when my mother had expressed her dislike of mutton. She said that she could not stand to eat the meat of a goat or sheep. She was given the opportunity to try some venison and asked how she liked it. She ate three pieces, and thought it was very good until she was then asked, “How did you like that goat meat?” She lost her meal! She acted the same way most of us do. She reacted to a name or label rather than to the thing itself.
Different elders have told me as I was trying to do personal evangelism, “You do not need to even call on a ________, for it will do no good.” You may put in the blank different religious groups, or persons in prison, or various other categories. We categorize and classify, and then react in blind, unreasoning prejudice just as those who rejected Christ. We classify persons as “antis,” “conservative,” “liberal,” or various other ways, sometimes never realizing that we are being “anti” something in our classification. We may be very conservative in one area, and very liberal in another. It is far better to define an action of which we approve or disapprove than to define the person. A boy in graduate school with me failed a particular test. He said, “I AM a failure,” and committed suicide. If he had said, “I failed one test,” his response might have been different.
“Can any good thing come out ofNazareth?” was the question Nathaniel asked in John 1:46. If a person IS a Nazarene, then it was hard to see that he could properly be classified as a prophet, a miracle worker, or even the Son of God. A person should not be either accepted or rejected because we classify him as poor or rich, scholar or unlearned, red, yellow, black or white, sinner or saint, conservative or liberal. He should be accepted or rejected in terms of what he demonstrates in his life and teaching. I have always tried to be conservative in my teaching and liberal in my giving, but how others classify me will often depend on one small act or word they think they know about me.
They rejected the Lord because they thought of Him as a carpenter. They rejected Him because they thought of Him as relatively uneducated. They rejected Him because they knew nothing outstanding about His brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3).
There are many consequences of prejudice, one of which is the rejection of Jesus. There are many other lessons we can get from this story, such as the fact that we should never despise the humble origin or work of an individual and be prejudiced as a result of preconceived notions. Jesus could do no mighty work for them because of their prejudice and disbelief (Mark 6:6). It is also true for us. One big lesson we have been emphasizing is that we can help to free our hearts from prejudice of various sorts by looking beyond the labels we attach to persons and examine the person to see his life and teachings. It is true that if a thing looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and walks like a duck, it probably safe to assume it may be properly classified as a duck. But it also true that it is possible to hear a noise where you thought a duck might be and assume the duck had laid an egg. It might be that the noise was not really a duck, and it was not the duck that laid the egg.
T. Pierce Brown
1068 Mitchell Ave.
Cookeville, TN. 38501
Phone: (615) 528-3600