The movie “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” came out in 1967. The basic story of the movie is that a woman brings her fiancé home to meet the parents. He’s a doctor. He’s black. The parents aren’t. 1967 was a year filled with racial tension and this movie played off of it and spoke to it at the same time. Not only were her parents upset with the arrangement, so were his. The movie explored the ranges of people’s prejudices at a time when we were dealing with a lot of racial hatred and it spoke to those who saw the movie about their fears and their hatred for people who were not like them.
Racial prejudice has been around for a long time. In fact, prejudice based on differentness has existed if your tribe was not my tribe. One of the amazing things about Christianity, at least in the early days, was the way that it accepted people from all walks of life into the family. Jews and Greeks, male and female, slave and free all were part of the family of God. Those amazing relationships caused Paul a lot of trouble though. “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’” The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!” (Acts 21:21-22)
The prophecy that Paul had received had been fulfilled. He had been taken captive after a riot started over false charges that he had brought a Gentile into the inner areas of the Temple. He convinced the head honcho to let him speak. The crowd listened, until he brought up those nasty Gentiles. In Jewish belief at the time, Gentiles were created to fuel the fires of hell. They weren’t fit for any good thing. Peter was interrogated by the Church after he talked with Cornelius. The early Church had a hard time believing that God could include Gentiles in this new Christian family. When revival broke out in Antioch, they had to check in to make sure that this happening really came from God. One of the first major conferences dealt with what Gentiles needed to do to be considered part of the family. The Church understood how God was working, but the Jewish people didn’t. They might be excused because the Romans, who were Gentiles, had occupied and oppressed them, but they were still overcome by hatred at the mere thought that Gentiles could be considered as part of the human race.
Our world is still filled with hatred. We hate “other groups.” The “other groups” hate us. We are involved in situations where that hatred is strong whether we in the church initiate the hatred or are responding to hatred directed towards us. The early Church realized that God was able to work in all people. Instead of hating people who were different, the Church sought to show them the love of God. When persecuted, the Church responded by loving their persecutors – perhaps because that’s what Jesus taught. As we deal with hatred, or even mild disapproval in our world we need to think about our responses. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke great wisdom when he said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” We are called to turn the other cheek. We are called to pray for and bless our persecutors. Perhaps we should remember the words of Jesus the next time we are attacked for our faith. Jesus urged us to avoid the court system if possible, not spend our days at the courthouse filing lawsuits over our grievances. Jesus called us to greet our enemies with a cup of cold water, not a protest sign. We can’t end the hate by responding with hate. We must respond with the love of Jesus.
Lord, our world is full of hate. Let me be known for one who shows Your love to others no matter how others may treat me. Remind me that life is all about You, not about me.