The Power of Prejudice

by Stephen Russell on June 19, 2018
The Power of Prejudice
By Stephen Russell

Matthew 13:45–46 (ESV)  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

To the first hearers of Jesus’ parables, the above story would have touched points within their lives that were ignored and/or acknowledged, much less dealt with. In our context, we resort to the usually accepted Christian interpretation and in the process short-change the ability of the parable to initiate paradigm shifts needed when co-existing within the Kingdom of God. There being multiple facets to this parable, here is a facet to consider.

When Jesus told this parable, His listeners would have heard certain things, and when weighing up what they were hearing, come to presumptions different from Christ’s perspectives, Christ reveals what is really in their hearts. In Matthew’s rendering, the term ‘merchant’ is actually the Greek word for man (anthropos) and not merchant. His secondary identification is that of a merchant. The scripture could read, “The kingdom of God is like a man, a merchant…”. He is a man, but will he remain a merchant as the story unfolds? 

To set the stage for perhaps a more accurate interpretation of this parable, consider the following points: 

  • Firstly, Merchants were viewed mostly with suspicion as those that prospered at the expense of the poor. Remember the ‘merchants’ Christ threw out of the temple? Immediately an assumed characterization is given to this merchant, as Christ identifies ‘a man’; Christ’s insinuation that the kingdom is like that man, a merchant, would have been disturbing to the listeners. 
  • Secondly, a pearl is from a non-kosher creature, so the audience is justified in their criticism as none of them would engage in such wasteful spending or being in possession of such luxury - they are on the side of the Law on this one. 
  • Thirdly, our protagonist sells all to purchase this one pearl and therefore ceases to be a merchant. He has found what he did not know he needed. To the audience, and typical to Christ’s shock-value parables, it seems unlikely that a ‘merchant’ and specifically that merchant, could change. The same applies to that woman at the well, that woman caught in adultery, that Matthew the tax collector. 

How do we view or judge those that are different to who and what we are and represent? The coming kingdom Christ was introducing would be different than the preconceived, judgmental and prejudice-skewed perspectives the audience had. 

The challenge now is the same as then as we all have a perspective, our idea, our personal nuances to what and how the kingdom should look like. In Jesus’ time the prejudice brought about elitism, but are there not elements of the same in our day? Often we disassociate because we are not like that church, or other fellow believer and their way of living the kingdom. 

Can a merchant become a man? Yes, in God’s eyes because it turns out that the kingdom cannot be defined by our preferences, or prejudices. Perhaps the kingdom you have in mind may not be entirely accurate, thus a predisposition towards people and churches not fitting your acceptable norm. Unity among God’s children comes about because of the recognition of the King, that being the case, we do not prescribe to our King who we think is in or out within Christendom. Rather, in a spirit of humility and love, cultivate a culture of honor among us as the church on Cape Cod.

Stephen Russell I Pastor - New Life.