“Can anything good come out of Mexico?”
Updated: Feb 1, 2018
This past week while vacationing with my family in Mexico, I was reminded of the racist jokes my friends and I used to tell in high school that demeaned and diminished people with Mexican citizenship or ancestry.
Growing up in a border state during the first conversations about NAFTA, our neighbors to the south quickly became people to be demeaned and avoided. Fear was rampant during that time, disguised under a thin veneer of hatred. We worried that if Mexican trucks were allowed into the US, and along with them more Mexicans, our roads would become clogged, our culture destroyed, and our jobs taken.
“Can anything good come out of Mexico?” we sighed disgruntledly.
In the scripture reading for today, Nathanael responded similarly. Approached by Philip at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, and invited to join the quest and follow the Messiah. Nathanael responded with derision, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” he asked.
It is a question many of us ask:
Can anything good come out of Haiti?
Can anything good come out of Puerto Rico?
Can anything good come out of the LGBTQ+ community? (PAUSE)
It is a question that pulls its strength from the false argument that we are more dis-similar, than we are the same. That isn’t to ignore real differences between cultures and contexts. It is to point out that it is a question we still wrestle with today. “Can anything good come out of those people over there, who are different from me?”
As an adult who has been alive longer out of high school, than before it, I fell into this same trap while traveling. Having visited some beautiful Spanish colonial cities, and ancient Mayan ruins on the Yucatan peninsula, my family and I made our way to one of Cancun’s island beaches. While trying to stay out of the sun and avoid getting too sandy, (Not the best plan for a beach day) I was abhorred to witness a group of students from a college sorority or fraternity gathered on one of Cancun’s island beaches.
Looking young and appearing to have a decent mix of people of various races and genders I expected to overhear some sort of liberal bias, or at least not the same sort of racial stereotypes I had inherited. However, not only did the students engage in the same racist jokes my friends and I had made in previous decades, they insulted the residents of our host country right to their faces.
As I was preparing to verbally eviscerate them for being so rude and obnoxious, (and silently fuming that no college students should ever be allowed to travel). I realized I had fallen into the same trap as Nathanael. I was ready to pre-judge a group of people and all that they were and had potential to be – based on a few minutes of overheard conversation. In that moment I made the internal argument that “No good could ever come out of college.” (BREATHE) (PAUSE)
What is interesting is Jesus avoided this trap in responding to Nathanael. Rather than lecture him or call him racist Jesus saw the fullness of Nathanael’s humanity. In their conversation Jesus mentioned having seen him under the fig tree, a strange detail for an otherwise sparse passage. However, it was likely included because the fig tree was a sign of peace and prosperity for Israel, a sign of God’s blessing and abundance. By recognizing Nathanael as being one who sat under the fig tree, Jesus recognized him as a devout and faithful Jew who diligently followed God and studied scripture. Their conversation pivoted in that moment as Nathanael responded to being recognized and ultimately proclaimed Jesus as the Son of God and King of Israel.
Nathanael had a legitimate reason for his stereotypes and biases. The town of Nazareth was a back water village of no importance. Expecting a leader or savior of the people to come from such a place would have been astounding. However what we see throughout scripture, is that God really does welcome everyone. From a politically conservative Republican to a flamboyant drag queen; from a devout Jew like Nathanael, to the Samaritan woman who lived independently; from people like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement to people who serve in the police and military.
And more than welcome, God uses everybody – regardless of the differences we find divisive. For all of you who have been told you are too lost, too little, or too least, to those of you who are regarded as wise, prudent, and well off, God has the power to use all of us completely. That is the Good News that came out of the poor, dusty village of Nazareth.
Thanks be to God.