Evening Prayer January 12


Scripture: John 1: 18-34 edited

Tonight, we compare the account of Jesus’ baptism by in John with that of Luke, which we read last Sunday. Our reflection considers how to implement our baptismal promise to respect the dignity of every human being in the face of our innate prejudices.

Comparing John’s and Luke’s accounts of Jesus’ baptism

John’s Gospel does not to share many stories about Jesus with Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Unusually, this evening we see very similar themes about Jesus’s baptism as Luke’s account. Which we read last Sunday.

Thus, John the Baptist quoted the prophet Isaiah.  He called himself a voice crying in the wilderness. Also, that someone would follow him.  Whose sandals he (John) is not worthy to untie. Again, John baptizes with water, but the Son of God baptizes with the Holy Spirit. Finally, the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove. All that’s missing is the statement by the heavenly voice.

Prejudice versus respect for others

This evening, I want to explore further implications about the baptismal promises that we renewed last Sunday. In particular, the promise about respecting the dignity of all people. So I pose the question. “Is prejudice ever compatible with respect for others?”

It depends on what we mean by prejudice. The word itself simply means pre-judging. In this context, it means having an opinion – positive or negative – about someone or something.  But without knowing all relevant information.

As with so many things in life, there are positives and negatives associated with having pre-formed opinions, or instincts. It’s hardly wrong for a woman walking home after dark to be suspicious of a large man who seems to be following her. In evolutionary terms, it made sense to be suspicious of strangers. Equally, to show preference to people like yourself. But that instinct is a problem in modern multicultural societies.

We all have prejudices

However, we all haves cultural prejudices.  Plus, the prejudices that we got from our families of origin. These instinctive snap judgements get in the way of taking a moment to think logically. 

However, cultural prejudices are problematic – even sinful – when we act upon them.  Whether, implicitly or overtly. For example, I grew up in England in the 1950s. There and then, almost everyone assumed that Brits were somehow superior to everyone else. I have had to unlearn that so-called lesson.

Likewise, my mother was virulently anti-Catholic.  Even though she never set foot inside a church! It would be very easy for me to make negative snap judgments about Roman Catholic residential schools. However, logic insists that our Anglican church ran schools under what I assume were very similar conditions.

Keeping prejudices in check

These are examples of prejudice. We all have them. I try to keep my baptismal promise about respecting other people by not expressing negative snap judgments in speech or action.

And I realize that other people may be prejudiced against me. As a priest, non-churchgoers may equate me with the intolerance that some fundamentalist Christians display. As a white male, some people will instinctively distrust me in terms of misogyny or of white privilege.

Thus, as I said, we all have preconceived notions. What matters, to me at least, is what we do with them.

Not acting on our prejudices brings God’s kingdom closer

Personally, I believe that we bring God’s kingdom a little closer every time we fail to act on our prejudices.  Some people say that this merely drives discrimination underground. Making it covert, rather than overt.

However, when we act on our negative prejudices, openly or not, we fail to respect other peoples’ dignity. Conversely, when we work to overcome them, it has the possibility of bringing God’s kingdom closer. And that is the whole purpose of our baptismal promises. Amen.