We were sitting on the hillside above Capernaum, one of the traditional locations where Jesus spelled out the bedrock characteristics of his kingdom—the beatitudes. Mary and I were in Israel leading a group and I was focusing their attention on the first beatitude using Luke’s Gospel, “Blessed are the poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
To illustrate that our natural inclination is to believe that it’s the rich, not the poor, who are happy, I talked about friends in New York City who excelled in making money. “When it comes to making business deals, you need to know how to Jew people down.” As soon as I said it, I knew I had hurt Helen, our Israeli guide. She was skillfully opening up for us the treasures of her homeland, and my mouth had made a big mistake. I had generalized about the Jewish people, picturing them all as money hungry business people, and this is racism.
Whenever we say those Blacks, those Hispanics, those Whites, those Asians, or those Jews—whenever we lump an entire people group together, racism has raised its ugly head. When this gets combined with envy toward the success of outsiders, it quickly gets deadly.
Daniel 2 concluded with Nebuchadnezzar making Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego—all Judeans—governing officials in the province of Babylon. Now in chapter 3 when they refuse to bow to his image on the plain of Dura, we get to see how the Chaldean elite actually felt about “those Jews” getting into positions of power and influence.
“At this time, when everyone was bowing before the image, some Chaldean men came forward to make a devouring legal charge against the Judeans. They began to speak before King Nebuchadnezzar, ‘O king, live-forever! You, O king, issued a decree that all men that hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and all sorts of musical instruments must fall and worship the gold image. And anyone who does not fall and worship is to be thrown into the blazing furnace.
Now there are some Judean men whom you appointed to administrate the district of Babylon—Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These men do not obey you, O king. They do not serve your gods nor worship the gold image that you erected.’
Then Nebuchadnezzar became furious with rage. He called for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to be summoned. So they were brought before the king.
Nebuchadnezzar began, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the gold image I have erected? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, zither, lyre, harp, pipes, and all sorts of musical instruments, are you ready to fall down and worship the image? If so, good! But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into the blazing furnace. Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?’” Daniel 3:8-15
I don’t want to have anything to do with the jealousy that moved these Chaldean governmental officials to accuse “those Jews—those outsiders, those exiled Judeans”—and try to get them executed by their boss.
As soon as I looked at Helen’s face on that hillside in Israel that day, I stopped, “Helen, please forgive me. It was wrong for me to talk about ‘Jewing people down.’ My words and attitude directly contradict everything Jesus was seeking to say about the nature of his kingdom in this passage.
LORD, only you can actually move deep inside someone’s heart. I pray that my racist, insensitive words won’t cause Helen to close her heart to Jesus, her fellow Jew, who wants to give all of us the gift of eternal life and unite us into a family where all the races will be cherished and loved.
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