Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary.... And they took offence at him.

Mark 6:1-6

Today’s Gospel records Jesus’ rejection by the people from his home town. I would venture to suggest that this was a difficult and humiliating moment for Jesus as he experienced rebuff by the local people. More than likely he went back to the village with great plans for the people only to discover that admiration soon turned to resentment.

The Gospel says “they took offense at him.” Why? The villagers do not dispute the teaching and wisdom of Jesus; they find it difficult to accept that a village boy is able to do these things. They have a low expectation of boys from the village and so Jesus is rejected. “Is not this the carpenter?” Carpenters were grouped in the lower classes. How can a carpenter rise to such heights? How can this village boy achieve such fame? “Is he not the son of Mary?" This question adds insult to injury. It was Jewish custom to refer to a man as the son of his father. By referring to Jesus as the son of Mary the people meant to insult him and to remind him that he was an illegitimate child. How dare this boy to claim he is God’s Son and to teach as one having authority and not like the scribes.

Unlike some people Jesus is not ashamed to go back to the village where he was born and raised. He is rejected not because he is a bad man but because he is a carpenter and the son of Mary. St. Mark makes this significant statement: “And he could do no mighty work there.” He is the victim of snobbery and class discrimination.

Jesus’ experience is not unique or uncommon. Throughout the history of the world people have experienced class discrimination and snobbery. These concepts and beliefs say that some people are inferior to others and this leads to unfair treatment. Discrimination of any kind goes against the accepted human rights principle that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.”

Class discrimination is an evil and very unchristian. It does untold damage to peoples’ psyche and has a negative psychological affect on peoples’ lives. It is immoral because it judges people on their perceived social standing and not on merit. It uses false values and stereotypes as it seeks to define and classify persons.  As a result people are not treated equally and those considered to be in the lower classes and at the bottom of the social ladder are socially disadvantaged. These persons experience oppression in its many forms, a denial of their human rights, a low self esteem and they are robbed of their human dignity.

Unfortunately, society has a built in bias against persons considered to be from the lower classes. Societies that encourage this idea and use class as a means for social stratification open themselves to social unrest and upheaval, when their citizens believe that they are not being treated fairly and equally. It is incumbent upon nations to close the gaps between the social classes in the interest of peace.

Class still plays a role in our Barbadian society. This is a fact we cannot deny, it is part of our history and social development. Class discrimination is more prevalent in Barbados than race discrimination and it affects all levels of our society. It is evident in our churches, schools, social clubs and organisations, political parties and institutions, places of recreation and entertainment. It sets white against whites, blacks against blacks, whites against blacks and blacks against whites. Knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, class discrimination continues to be part of our national life and many of our citizens believe that they are disadvantaged or have been disadvantaged because of their social class. We might not want to accept it but it is true. In this society we are judged socially by these four things: the school we attended or attend, the jobs we do, where we live and our family pedigree. Some might argue that this phenomenon is common in most societies.

What are the first questions we ask when we are introduced to persons? Which school did you attend? Where do you work? Where do you live? Who are your parents? These questions are asked purposely and in many cases the answers you give can and do determine the way you are treated and respected, if you will get the job, if you can hold office in your organisation or club, if you will be promoted, the kind of service we receive from public and private enterprise.  Class discrimination is real and it carries a stigma. In this society people are still ashamed to say where they live. Some people who apply for jobs do not give their true address if they believe it will work to their disadvantage because of the stigma attached to the areas. Some of us do not go back to our villages, some of us do not identify with the schools we attended, and some of us deny our families; all as a result of class prejudice and discrimination which instils shame and embarrassment.

One of the main perpetrators of class discrimination in our society is the common entrance examination. It is claimed that this exercise is fair as it gives each child an equal opportunity for placement in secondary schools but this claim is false. This examination is disadvantageous to many children and affects their self esteem. It is embraced by many persons because it serves their personal egos and continues to encourage elitism. Consciously or unconsciously, it promotes class discrimination as it gives an air of importance and superiority to those who do well. It says that one’s ‘goodness’ is judged by the school one attends and not by one’s achievement.

We cannot condone the practice of class separation and distinction. It breeds elitism and snobbery which work to the detriment of most people. In our Barbadian context class discrimination does not say we cannot join any group or organisation of our choice, it does not say we cannot live in any particular area, it does not say we cannot participate in any sporting activity, it does not say we cannot seek employment in any business establishment, but it is so designed to make you uncomfortable as it says loudly ‘you are not welcome’. If you are not welcome you are a victim of class discrimination. Classism which is discrimination because of class has a negative affect on many of our citizens. Presently, in our Barbadian setting, class still plays a part in the quality of health care we receive, the kind of legal representation we get, the school we are likely to attend, the jobs we will get and who our friends will be. Ironically, class discrimination finds wide support among its victims. This is linked to the social stratification that characterises Barbadian social life. The oppressed are often their worse enemies. The challenge to us is to create a just society in which class plays no role in determining the quality of life we will enjoy.

Discrimination based on class, religion, creed, gender, race or any other thing is repugnant and an offence to God. Christians’ opposition to discrimination of any kind is not based on political, economic or social theories but on biblical teaching and Christian practice. What does Scripture teach?

The Bible is clear in its teaching that God is no respecter of persons and that discrimination is an offence. Any form of discrimination that promotes inequality and ‘unfairness’ is a sin against God and the neighbour. God treats all people equally and Christians are to follow this example. There are many biblical texts that support the idea of God’s impartiality which we are to emulate, among them are these:

 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the terrible God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. Deuteronomy 10:17

And Peter opened his mouth and said: "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. Acts 10:34-35

My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, "Have a seat here, please," while you say to the poor man, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?  Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him?  But you have dishonoured the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court?  Is it not they who blaspheme that honourable name which was invoked over you?  If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbour as yourself," you do well.  But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. James 2:1-9

The Old Testament teaches that we must have a special concern for the poor who are always the victims of class discrimination.

"If there is among you a poor man, one of your brethren, in any of your towns within your land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother,  but you shall open your hand to him, and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be.  Take heed lest there be a base thought in your heart, and you say, `The seventh year, the year of release is near,' and your eye be hostile to your poor brother, and you give him nothing, and he cry to the LORD against you, and it be sin in you.  You shall give to him freely, and your heart shall not be grudging when you give to him; because for this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in all that you undertake.  For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in the land. Deuteronomy 15:7-11

The Book of Leviticus witnesses to the principle of equal treatment for all and makes a special appeal for equality in judgment.

"You shall do no injustice in judgment; you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbour." Leviticus 19:15

Discrimination from a Christian perspective is always sinful; it goes against biblical teaching that we are persons of worth and value because we are made in the image of God. When we practise discrimination of any kind we devalue people, deny them their true human dignity and compromise biblical teaching that each man or woman is a person and not a thing. The offer of salvation is to all people without exception. All who accept Christ can share eternal life.

Christianity teaches egalitarianism, this idea is found in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians and Colossians:

“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”                                                                                                                                    Galatians 3:28.

 Here there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scyth'ian, slave, free man, but Christ is all, and in all. Colossians 3:11

Throughout his earthly ministry Jesus acted impartially.  He befriended women and children, mixed with the social outcasts, healed the unclean. In these acts of mercy and compassion, Jesus set aside the discriminatory accepted practices of the times.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan is the story par excellence against discrimination of any kind. It is a story of love and teaches that each person has a claim on my love. I must treat all people equally and with respect. I cannot allow social barriers and distinction to prevent me from treating my neighbour with love, kindness and respect. This parable is all about acceptance and challenges us to overcome the issues of race, religion,  class, gender, sexual orientation, politics, nationality and the like that can be used as the basis for discrimination.

Any form of discrimination that makes us less is a sin against God and humanity. 

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