Among the social evils which are still part of our daily experience today, high on the list we may read stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.
The three are more often linked and they go hand-in-hand, though it is possible to have one without the others.
Stereotypes foster prejudice which put different people in categories where they are treated unfairly or discriminated against, as a result of their group membership.
Such evils are as old as man himself, and every society has a duty to guard itself against these social evils. When these three evils take an ethnic or racial line against a certain group of people, then the results can be horrible.
Here we do not need to go into the Bible for examples. It is enough to have a look at our own society, a society marked with genocide, in order to understand what hatred can do to people’s hearts.
If we turn to the Bible, the book of Deuteronomy singles out Israel’s closed mentality towards foreign peoples in order to teach us the importance of guarding ourselves against the practice of discrimination both as individuals as well as a nation still in the process of healing.
The same book narrates how the Hebrews avoided any contact with foreigners and how they were excluded from prayers and sacrifices in the temple in fear of being drawn away from Yahweh.
And the irony of all this, is that they were sowing hatred in the hearts of younger generations and at the same time they thought they were pleasing their God.
The Bible tells us that like many other communities which allow themselves to be taken by hatred and discrimination, they too learnt their lesson the hard way. With time, they were forced into exile in Babylon, where they had a very bitter and painful experience.
Thanks to this kind of experience, they had a time to mature both humanly and religiously. It was a time which compelled them to compare themselves with other peoples, and thus corrected many of their prejudices.
They found out, for instance, that the people they called pagans were not evil by nature and that they led very moral lives within the context of their own culture.
As years went by, they continued to mix freely with different people and discovered that other people’s religion would not be compared as total falsehood nor as mere corruption, but that they contained their valuable social precepts different from theirs. Just like the Israelites were.
Hence on their return from exile, they were not the same people as before; they had learnt to appreciate people’s unity in diversity.
There should not be barriers between peoples; whatever their tribe, race or nation because they all share the right to consider themselves God’s people and to be related as brothers and sisters. And before God, that is what all people are!
History repeats itself. What happened to the people of Israel at that time, echoed throughout history. The Israelites continued to see themselves above all, as the chosen people of God and they were right.
But they were wrong to think that they were the only pure human beings. Hence, it never occurred to them that they may be once stripped of their privileges.
In fact, later on, they manifested an unusual lack of openness to any of the signs of salvation. This unfortunate event caused some of them to be excluded from the joy of the Kingdom, the worst thing which can happen to any human being.
This, if we do not pay attention, could happen still to us today, as a community, a nation or collectively as Christians.
In any human society, it is easy to observe some kind of ‘personal discrimination’ which is practiced by an individual because he or she believes that a certain group of people should be treated better than the rest.
Such individuals at times may be driven by a domination urge, because they would like their group to dominate over the others.
Where the situation is allowed to deteriorate, human society may experience the worst in the ‘institutional discrimination’ where discriminatory policies or practices are carried out by organisations and different institutions in broad day light.
Normally when such a thing happens, the problem lies within the erroneous conscience of the whole society, and it is hard to correct, because it entails breaking the barriers set up by that very society.
Jesus in his earthly mission gives us an example how to break such barriers. He broke the barriers set up by his own society of Israelites.
One day a Canaanite woman approached him asking for her daughter to be cured. As a Canaanite, the woman belonged to a people traditionally inimical to Israel.
By Jewish rules, Jesus was not even supposed to speak to her, late alone pay attention to her daughter who needed to be cured.
The human element in the disciples of Jesus came to the fore and without delay they asked Jesus to send away the noisy woman because she was shouting for them.
But Jesus is both human and divine. He did not pay attention to the Jewish rules. He went ahead and listened to the Canaanite woman without hiding the fact that he had liked her because of her great faith. He let her know that her prayers were answered positively.
Jesus teaches us how we should all try our best and remove the barriers of race, tribe and nationality that divide us.