Wednesday, April 8
Of Stereotypes and Stories
Stereotypes reveal and conceal. Our minds naturally put things—or persons—in categories so we can more quickly and efficiently make decisions about them. One of the crazy things about the coronavirus is that you cannot necessarily tell who might be contagious by their outward appearance. How do you feel if you see someone wearing a mask? It used to be that the bad guys wore the masks. Now it can add to your sense of safety, or not; depending on what you think it means. The things that mark a stereotype with meaning can change when the story changes.
Jesus told stories with plot twists in his final days to expose the twisted thinking of his day. For example, he drew on the example of the stereotypical defiant child and the dodging child to explore another pair of stereotypes that were common in his day; namely, the “tax collectors and prostitutes” versus the religious fastidious Pharisees.
The question is, who really does the Father’s will? In the parable one son had made a verbal commitment to go to work, but never followed through. The other son refused at first, but then had a change of heart. With this analogy Jesus confronted certain religious elites with the fact that many stereotypical “sinners” whom they held in contempt had come closer to God’s heart than they had. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “corrupt tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the Kingdom of God before you do. For John the Baptist came and showed you the right way to live, but you didn’t believe him, while tax collectors and prostitutes did. And even when you saw this happening, you refused to believe him and repent of your sins” (Matthew 21:31-32 NLT). Whether their issue was resentment, jealousy, or self-preservation, all they seemed capable of was marginalizing or eliminating whatever threatened their carefully crafted way of life. Sadly, their hearts had become hardened against God, and his Son.
We know that God does not look at exterior appearances, but at the heart. Those who operate by rules of right and wrong, clean and unclean, are solving behavior problems; those who repent and believe the Gospel are resolving a relationship problem. There is a righteousness of the law that arises from fear of shame, but it allows for private unholiness. The righteousness of faith is unhypocritical; it confesses sin and works through shame, but it also allows holiness to guide the interior, private life, because the center of it is worship. Let this love be your motive for purity—God’s love.
Prayer: Lord God, we are saved by your mercy and not by our own efforts. We are saved by the cleansing from sin accomplished by the Holy Spirit in Baptism. You call us to a life of ongoing repentance and renewal. Fill me with your Holy Spirit. Renew in me a clean heart. Help me see situations from your perspective and to be open to anyone who will repent and believe the Gospel, no matter what their outward circumstances may be.
- Can you recall a time you were wrong about your first impressions of a person? What changed?
- Someone said, “I try to lead with my weakness.” What does that mean?
- How might a parent guide their child to be careful or wary of possible predators without instilling undue fear?