The Gospel reading from Matthew has perplexed me at times. Proverbs 13:20 says, Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm. And the great Booker T. Washington is quoted as saying, Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than to be in bad company. ButMatthew turns these thoughts completely around when he writes of Jesus, who openly sat at table with lowly tax collectors, the sick and sinners, rather than with the Pharisees.
So how can these seeming contradictions be explained?
To start with, who is to say that the tax collectors, sick and sinners Jesus sat with were fools or not of good quality? It appears that the Pharisees made their judgment of who Jesus was associating with based on his guests’ occupations or outward appearances. The Pharisees viewed them through the lens of exclusivity, versus Jesus’ lens of inclusivity.
So how do we view others?
Unfortunately, it is all too easy to wear the lens of exclusivity and make judgments based upon someone’s appearance, the color of their skin, their political affiliation, the car they drive or the religion they practice. Sadly, I think even people who are not openly prejudiced let prejudicial thoughts creep into their minds, the so-called “unconscious bias effect.” Unfortunately for some, the motto “Guilty until proven otherwise” controls how they view others.
Last Sunday my wife and I attended Mass at a small church in South Dakota. In the front row sat four first communicants, their families in the rows behind them. The four children and their families were the only Latinos in the church. The three girls had on pretty white dresses and the boy a blue suit. Their parents and friends were the best dressed in church. After church, my wife and I talked about the children and wondered how they might be treated in this small town. For all we knew, they could be fourth-generation Americans like many of us, but with the immigration controversy swirling on our southern border, were they instead viewed differently because of the color of their skin and the news we hear? We wondered what lens the people of this small town used when seeing others who were not like them.
We have an innate tendency to be attracted to those who are like us and to view those who are different with caution. But, just because we have this tendency doesn’t mean we have to use it.
So how can we work to rid ourselves of unconscious bias and see the world through the lens of inclusivity, like Jesus?
We can pray for the strength to challenge ourselves to be more like Jesus and to reach out to those who may be different than us. Through daily prayer, we will be reminded to challenge our assumptions about who we think a person is when we truly don’t know. We can open our hearts to seeing God at work in those we encounter. Through prayer and reflection we will gain the strength to challenge our friends and family who may express prejudices about someone they likely do not even know.
Ignatius instructed the early Jesuits to “go out and find God who is present in all things,” and this remains a cornerstone of their spirituality. To some, the phrase, “present in all things” means that God is everywhere and in everything, but more importantly, God is present in everyone – even the tax collectors, the sick and the sinners. God is present in those who are different from us. We just need to look a little closer to see him in their faces and hearts.