In this section of Acts, Paul faces an angry Jewish mob, a mob blinded by prejudice against the Gentiles. He narrowly avoids a severe, potentially fatal flogging by revealing to the guards his Roman citizenship.
Prejudice is a terrible force. It can grip you, blind you, and cause you to act in ways incongruous with logic and reason. The Jewish people listening to Paul sincerely believed that the only way to salvation was to be Jewish. They were angry that salvation could also be given directly to the Gentiles.
I remember one of my encounters with outright prejudice. It happened during my freshman year in college: my boyfriend's father banging on our front door, screaming in my father's face that I should stay away from his son, not because he knew me at all, but because of what I represented.
But prejudice doesn't just manifest itself in wild, frenzied scenes. Sometimes a prejudice can be quite subtle and manifest itself in the slightest of glances, the tamest of words, the inertia of inaction. How do you really feel about salvation for ALL? What about people who are not like you or your neighbor? What about people who fall visibly, publicly, and hard? What about gang members, drug users, criminals? What about aliens, legal or illegal, seeking an honest day's work? What about the homeless or those in poverty? What about people around us who are angry, demanding, confused, or annoying?
Sometimes our Christian challenge is to rise above our prejudices, however small, and to act positively, as Christians in otherwise awkward, unusual, or mentally challenging situations. There are so many to tend to; and we are all equal at the foot of the cross, the cross which represents salvation for ALL.
Dear God, please grant us the grace to rise about any prejudice, anger, or hurt we may experience and, like Paul, to be bold and faithful witnesses of Christian love by way of our words, actions, and prayers -- even to those blinded by fear or ignorance. Amen.
Martha Campos Olson