[From ws 6/18 p. 8 – August 13 – August 19]
“I make request … that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me.”—John 17:20,21.
Before beginning our review, I would like to mention the non-study article that follows this study article in the June 2018 The Watchtower Study Edition. It is entitled “He Could Have Had God’s Favor”, discussing the example of Rehoboam. It is worth reading, as it is a rare example of good scriptural material without bias or hidden agenda, and therefore its contents are beneficial to us all.
This week’s article deals with prejudices and overcoming them to remain united. This is a commendable goal, but how close the Organization succeeds let us examine.
Introduction (Par. 1-3)
Paragraph 1 actually acknowledges that “Love would be a mark of Jesus’ true disciples” citing John 13:34-35, but only in that it “would contribute to their unity”. Plainly stated, without love there can be little or no unity as the apostle Paul showed when he discussed love in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
Jesus was concerned about the disciples who had disputed a number of times “which one of them was considered to be the greatest (Luke 22:24-27, Mark 9:33-34)” (par. 2). This was one of the biggest threats to their unity, but the article only wishes to mention it and pass on to discussing prejudice which is its main topic.
Yet today we have a whole hierarchy of positions of prominence for which brothers reach out within the Organization. This hierarchy will be dismissed by stating, “We are all brothers”; but its existence, whether by design or accident, encourages an I’m-greater-than-you attitude—the very mindset Jesus was trying to combat.
If you have ever read Animal Farm by George Orwell, you may recognise the following mantra: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. This is so true of the Organization of Jehovah’s Witnesses. How so? For both brothers and sisters, auxiliary pioneers are more equal than publishers; regular pioneers are more equal than auxiliary pioneers; special pioneers more equal than regular pioneers. For brothers, ministerial servants are more equal than ordinary publishers; elders are more equal than ministerial servants; circuit overseers are even more equal than elders; the Governing Body are the most equal of all. (Matthew 23:1-11).
This often breeds cliques within congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses. The Organizational hierarchy breeds prejudice instead of eliminating it.
Prejudice that Jesus and his Followers Faced (Par. 4-7)
After discussing the prejudice that Jesus and his followers faced, paragraph 7 highlights:
“How did Jesus deal with them [prejudices of the day]? First, he rejected prejudice, being totally impartial. He preached to rich and poor, Pharisees and Samaritans, even tax collectors and sinners. Second, by his teaching and example, Jesus showed his disciples that they must overcome suspicion or intolerance to others.”
The third way is missing. The paragraph should have added: ‘Third, by his performing of miracles upon rich and poor, Pharisee and Samaritan and Jew, even tax collectors and sinners.’
Matthew 15:21-28 reports a Phoenician woman who had her demonised daughter cured. He raised a young boy from the dead (son of the widow of Nain); a young girl, the daughter of Jairus, the presiding officer of the synagogue; and a personal friend Lazarus. On many occasions, he desired that the recipient of the miracle show faith, though their faith or lack thereof was not a requirement. He clearly showed he had no prejudice. His disinclination to help the Phoenician woman was only in line with his divinely authorized mission to spread the good news first with the children of Israel. Yet even here, he “bent the rules”, so to speak, favoring to act in mercy. What a fine example he showed us!
Conquering Prejudice with Love and Humility (Par.8-11)
Paragraph 8 opens by reminding us that Jesus said, “All of you are brothers”. (Matthew 23:8-9) It goes on to say:
“Jesus explained that his disciples were brothers and sisters because they recognized Jehovah as their heavenly Father. (Matthew 12:50)”
Since this is the case, then why do we call one another brother and sister, yet perpetrate the idea that only some of us are children of God. If, as one of the other sheep, you are a “friend of God” (according to the publications), then how can you refer to the children of your “friend” as your brothers and sisters? (Galatians 3:26, Romans 9:26)
We also need humility as Jesus highlighted in Matthew 23:11-12—a read scripture in paragraph 9.
“But the greatest one among you must be your minister. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” (Mt 23:11, 12)
The Jews were proud because they had Abraham for a father, but John the Baptist reminded them that did not give them any special privileges. Indeed, Jesus foretold that because the natural Jews would not accept him as the Messiah, the privilege offered them would not be extended to the Gentiles—the “other sheep not of this fold” Jesus spoke of in John 10:16.
This was fulfilled starting in 36 CE as recorded in Acts 10:34 when after being greeted by Cornelius the Roman army officer, the Apostle Peter humbly stated “For a certainty I perceive that God is not partial” [does not have prejudice].
Acts 10:44 continues, “While Peter was yet speaking about these matters the Holy Spirit fell upon all those hearing the word.” This was when Jesus through the Holy Spirit brought in non-Jewish sheep to the Christian congregation and united them through that same Spirit. It was not long afterwards that Paul and Barnabas were sent on the first of their missionary journeys, primarily to the Gentiles.
Paragraph 10 discusses briefly the parable of the Good Samaritan citing Luke 10:25-37. This parable was answering the question posed “Who really is my neighbour?” (v29).
Jesus used the men considered most holy by those in his audience—priests and Levites—when depicting the unloving attitude to be avoided. Then he chose a Samaritan—a group looked down upon by the Jews—as his example of a loving individual.
Today the Organization has many widows and widowers in need of help and care, but in general the congregations are too busy to help them because of the obsession with preaching at all costs. Just as in Jesus’ day, being seen to be righteous like the priest and Levite is more important in the Organization than assisting those in need by making such a priority over “organizational duties” such as going out in the weekend field ministry. Preaching peace and kindness is empty, even hypocritical if not backed up by works.
Paragraph 11 reminds us that when Jesus sent the disciples out to witness after his resurrection, he sent them to “bear witness to ‘all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.’ (Acts 1:8)” The disciples therefore had to put prejudice aside to preach to the Samaritans. Luke 4:25-27 (cited) powerfully records Jesus telling those Jews in the synagogue in Capernaum that the Sidonian widow of Zarapheth and Naaman of Syria were blessed with miracles because they were worthy recipients due to their faith and actions. It was the faithless and thus undeserving Israelites who were ignored.
Fighting Prejudice in the First Century (Par.12-17)
The disciples initially found it difficult to put aside their prejudices. But Jesus gave them a powerful lesson in the account of the Samaritan woman at the well. The Jewish religious leaders of the day would not speak to a woman in public. They would certainly not have spoken to a Samaritan women and one who was known to be living immorally. Yet Jesus had a long conversation with her. John 4:27 records the disciples surprise when they found him talking to the woman at the well. This conversation resulted in Jesus staying two days at that city and many Samaritans becoming believers.
Paragraph 14 cites Acts 6:1 which occurred shortly after Pentecost of 33 CE, stating:
“Now in those days when the disciples were increasing, the Greek-speaking Jews began complaining against the Hebrew-speaking Jews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution.”
The account doesn’t record why this happened, but obviously some prejudice was at work. Even today prejudices based on accent, language, or culture. Even as the Apostles settled the problem by being fair minded and put in place a solution acceptable to all, likewise we need to ensure that preferential treatment toward certain groups, such as pioneers, or elders and their families, does not creep into our way of worship. (Acts 6:3-6)
However, the biggest lesson and the most difficult test came in 36 CE, particularly for the Apostle Peter and the Jewish Christians. It was the acceptance of Gentiles into the Christian congregation. The entire chapter of Acts 10 is a worth reading and meditating on, but the article just suggests reading of vs. 28, 34, and 35. A key section not mentioned is Acts 10:10-16 where Peter had a vision of unclean things which Jesus told him to eat with three-fold emphasis that he should not call unclean what the Lord had called clean.
Paragraph 16 though gives a lot of food for thought. It says:
“Although it took time, they adjusted their way of thinking. The early Christians gained a reputation of loving one another. Tertullian, a second-century writer, quoted non-Christians as saying: “They love one another . . . They are ready even to die for one another.” Putting on “the new personality,” the early Christians came to view all people as equal in the sight of God.—Colossians 3:10, 11”
The first and second century Christians developed such love for one another that this was noted by the non-Christians around them. With all the backbiting, slandering and gossiping that goes on in the majority of congregations, could the same be said today?
Prejudice Withers as Love Grows (Par.18-20)
If we seek the wisdom from above as discussed in James 3:17-18, we will be able to eliminate prejudice in our own hearts and minds. James wrote, “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, reasonable, ready to obey, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial, not hypocritical. Moreover, the fruit of righteousness is sown in peaceful conditions for those who are making peace.”
Let us strive to apply this counsel, not to be partial or showing prejudice but rather peaceable and reasonable. If we do that Christ will want to be in union with the type of person we have become, not only now but forever. Truly a wonderful prospect. (2 Corinthians 13:5-6)