America, along with the other nations of the world, has experienced throughout its history, times of turmoil as a result of prejudice. This prejudice was justified on the basis of race, gender, social class, and a host of other distinctions that make one group of people “different” from another. Oftentimes, these prejudices were enshrined in the civil laws of our country, and were enforced with shameful brutality. Many people in our history were jailed and persecuted because they dared to oppose this social evil. At the very least, whole groups of people endured social and economic discrimination simply because of who they were.
Jesus on the other hand, struggled to overcome the social and religious prejudices of his day. In Scripture we read that while traveling through Samaria, Jesus stopped by a well to rest. A woman of Samaria came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Give me a drink”. (John 4:7). He then engaged her in a long conversation. Talking to a woman in public was then considered a serious breach of social and religious custom that could cost a religious teacher his reputation and authority. A rabbi would not even speak to his wife or daughters in public. What is equally important, this woman was a Samaratin for whom Jews felt a longstanding and bitter animosity. Even more striking, she had an immoral past.
But our Lord was undeterred by these prejudices. He had come to destroy these barriers. He would follow the course of love by breaking down the enormous barrier of sin that separates us not only from God, but from each other.
We, too, need to ask ourselves—Are there barriers in our hearts that keep us from reaching out to people because of social, racial, and even religious prejudices? If so, we need God’s forgiveness, and the wisdom and strength to begin the process of tearing them down. Breaking down barriers, after all, should be one of the marks of those who choose to follow the example of Christ.