“I make request . . . that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in union with me.”—JOHN 17:20, 21.
1, 2. (a) What did Jesus ask for during his last prayer with his apostles? (b) Why might Jesus have been concerned about unity?
JESUS was concerned about unity during his last meal with his apostles. When he was praying with them, he said that he wanted his disciples to be one, or united, just as he and his Father are united. (Read John 17:20, 21.) If Jesus’ disciples were united, this would prove to others that Jehovah had sent Jesus to the earth. People would identify Jesus’ true disciples by their love for one another, and this love would make them more united.—John 13:34, 35.
2 We can understand why Jesus talked a lot about unity that night. He had noticed that his apostles were not completely united. For example, the apostles argued about “which one of them was considered to be the greatest,” as they had done before. (Luke 22:24-27; Mark 9:33, 34) Another time, James and John had asked Jesus to give them prominent places in the heavenly Kingdom, right next to him.—Mark 10:35-40.
3. What may have prevented Christ’s disciples from being united, and what questions will we discuss?
3 A desire for more power and authority was not the only thing that could have prevented Christ’s disciples from being united. The people in Jesus’ day were divided because of hatred and prejudice. Jesus’ disciples would need to overcome those negative feelings. In this article, we will discuss these questions: What did Jesus do about prejudice? How did he help his followers learn to treat others impartially, or fairly, and become united? And how will Jesus’ example and the things he taught help us to keep united?
PREJUDICE AGAINST JESUS AND HIS FOLLOWERS
4. Give examples of prejudice that Jesus experienced.
4 Even Jesus experienced prejudice. When Philip told Nathanael that he had found the Messiah, Nathanael said: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” (John 1:46) Nathanael probably knew that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, as the prophecy at Micah 5:2 had said. He may have thought that Nazareth was not important enough to be the Messiah’s hometown. Also, there were prominent Judeans who looked down on Jesus because he came from Galilee. (John 7:52) Many Judeans thought that people from Galilee were inferior. Other Jews tried to insult Jesus by calling him a Samaritan. (John 8:48) The Samaritans were from a different nation, and their religion was different from the religion of the Jews. Both Judeans and Galileans had little respect for the Samaritans and avoided them.—John 4:9.
To remain united, Jesus’ disciples would have to change their way of thinking
5. What prejudice did Jesus’ disciples experience?
5 The Jewish religious leaders also disrespected Jesus’ followers. The Pharisees called them “accursed people.” (John 7:47-49) The Pharisees viewed anyone who did not study at the Jewish religious schools and who did not follow their traditions as worthless and ordinary. (Acts 4:13, footnote) Jesus and his disciples experienced prejudice because people at that time were proud of their religion, their position in society, and their race. This prejudice also influenced the disciples and their view of others. To remain united, they would have to change their way of thinking.
6. Use examples to show how prejudice can affect us.
6 Today, the world around us is full of prejudice. People may be prejudiced against us, or we might be somewhat prejudiced against others. A sister who is now a pioneer in Australia says: “My hatred for white people grew as I focused on the injustice that was inflicted on the Aboriginal people—past and present.” Her hatred also grew because of the way some had mistreated her. A brother from Canada admits how he used to feel: “I thought French-speaking people were superior.” He says that as a result, he did not like those who spoke English.
7. What did Jesus do about prejudice?
7 As in Jesus’ day, feelings of prejudice today are often very strong and hard to change. What did Jesus do about such feelings? First, he never became prejudiced himself. He was always impartial. He preached to rich and poor, to Pharisees and Samaritans, and even to tax collectors and sinners. Second, Jesus taught his disciples and showed them by his example that they should not be suspicious of others or prejudiced against them.
OVERCOME PREJUDICE WITH LOVE AND HUMILITY
8. What important principle is the basis for our unity? Explain.
8 Jesus taught an important principle that is the basis for our unity. He told his disciples: “All of you are brothers.” (Read Matthew 23:8, 9.) In one sense, we are all brothers because we are all children of Adam. (Acts 17:26) Jesus explained that his disciples were also brothers and sisters because they all acknowledged Jehovah as their heavenly Father. (Matthew 12:50) And they had all become part of God’s family and were united by love and faith. That is why the apostles called other Christians their brothers and sisters in their letters to the congregations.—Romans 1:13; 1 Peter 2:17; 1 John 3:13.*—See footnote.
9, 10. (a) Why did the Jews not have reason to be proud of their race? (b) How did Jesus teach that it is wrong to look down on people from a different race? (See opening picture.)
9 After Jesus told his disciples that they should view one another as brothers and sisters, he emphasized that they had to be humble. (Read Matthew 23:11, 12.) As we have already learned, at times pride divided the apostles. And in Jesus’ day, people were very proud of their race. Many Jews believed that they were better than others because they were children of Abraham. But John the Baptist told them: “God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones.”—Luke 3:8.
10 Jesus taught that it is wrong for people to be proud of their race. He made that clear when a scribe asked him: “Who really is my neighbor?” To answer that question, Jesus told a story. A Jew was beaten by thieves and left on the road. Although some Jews passed by this man, they did not help him. But a Samaritan felt sorry for the Jew and took care of him. Jesus ended his story by telling the scribe that he needed to be like that Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus showed that a Samaritan could teach the Jews what it meant to love their neighbor.
11. Why did Jesus’ disciples need to be impartial, and how did he help them understand that?
11 Before Jesus went to heaven, he told his disciples to preach in “all Judea and Samaria, and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) In order to do that, Jesus’ disciples would have to overcome their pride and prejudice. Jesus had often talked about good qualities in foreigners, and this prepared his disciples to preach to all nations. For example, he praised a foreign army officer who had outstanding faith. (Matthew 8:5-10) In his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus explained how Jehovah had helped foreigners, such as the Phoenician widow from Zarephath and the Syrian leper Naaman. (Luke 4:25-27) Jesus also preached to a Samaritan woman and even spent two days in a Samaritan town because the people were interested in his message.—John 4:21-24, 40.
THE FIRST CHRISTIANS HAD TO FIGHT AGAINST PREJUDICE
12, 13. (a) How did the apostles react when Jesus taught a Samaritan woman? (See opening picture.) (b) What shows that James and John did not completely understand what Jesus was trying to teach them?
12 It was not easy for the apostles to overcome their prejudice. They were surprised that Jesus was willing to teach a Samaritan woman. (John 4:9, 27) Why? Perhaps because Jewish religious leaders would not talk to a woman in public, and certainly not to a Samaritan woman with a bad reputation. The apostles told Jesus to eat, but Jesus had enjoyed talking to this woman so much that eating was not important to him. God wanted him to preach, and doing what his Father wanted, even preaching to a Samaritan woman, was like food for him.—John 4:31-34.
13 James and John did not understand this important lesson. When the disciples were traveling with Jesus through Samaria, they looked for a place to spend the night in a Samaritan village. But the Samaritans would not let them sleep there. James and John became so angry that they asked Jesus if he wanted them to send fire from heaven to destroy the entire village. Jesus strongly corrected them. (Luke 9:51-56) Maybe James and John would not have become so angry if this had happened in their home area of Galilee. They were angry probably because they were prejudiced. Later, when John was preaching to the Samaritans and many listened to him, he might have felt embarrassed about the way he had reacted before.—Acts 8:14, 25.
14. How was a problem of prejudice solved?
14 Not long after Pentecost in the year 33, there was a problem of discrimination in the congregation. When the brothers gave food to needy widows, they overlooked the widows who spoke Greek. (Acts 6:1) This may have happened because of prejudice about language. The apostles solved the problem quickly. They chose seven qualified brothers to distribute the food fairly. All of those brothers had Greek names, which may have comforted the offended widows.
15. How did Peter learn to show impartiality to everyone? (See opening picture.)
15 In the year 36, Jesus’ disciples began to preach to people from all nations. Before that, the apostle Peter had usually spent his time only with Jews. Then God made it clear that Christians should not be partial, and Peter preached to Cornelius, a Roman soldier. (Read Acts 10:28, 34, 35.) After that, Peter spent time with and ate with non-Jewish Christians. Years later, though, in the city of Antioch, he stopped eating with non-Jewish Christians. (Galatians 2:11-14) Paul corrected Peter, and Peter accepted the correction. How do we know? When Peter wrote his first letter to the Jewish and non-Jewish Christians in Asia Minor, he talked about how important it is to love all our brothers.—1 Peter 1:1; 2:17.
16. What did the first Christians become known for?
16 Clearly, because of Jesus’ example, the apostles learned to love “all sorts of men.” (John 12:32; 1 Timothy 4:10) Even though it took time, they changed the way they viewed people. In fact, the first Christians became known for their love for one another. About the year 200, the writer Tertullian quoted what other people said about Christians: “They love one another,” and “They are ready even to die for one another.” Because those Christians put on “the new personality,” they learned to view all people as equal, the way God views them.—Colossians 3:10, 11.
17. How can we get rid of any feelings of prejudice? Give examples.
17 Today, it may also take time for us to get rid of any feelings of prejudice. A sister in France describes how difficult this has been for her. She says: “Jehovah has taught me what love means, what sharing means, what loving people of all kinds means. But I am still learning to overcome prejudice toward others, and it is not always easy. That is why I continue praying about it.” A sister in Spain explains that sometimes she still has to fight negative feelings about a certain group of people. She says: “I succeed most of the time. But I know that I need to keep on fighting. Thanks to Jehovah, I am happy to belong to a united family.” All of us need to think carefully about how we feel. Do we too need to get rid of some feelings of prejudice?
WHEN LOVE GROWS, PREJUDICE DISAPPEARS
18, 19. (a) What reasons do we have to welcome everyone? (b) How can we do this?
18 It is good for us to remember that we all used to be far away from God. (Ephesians 2:12) But Jehovah drew us to him with love. (Hosea 11:4; John 6:44) And Christ welcomed us. He made it possible for us to become part of God’s family. (Read Romans 15:7.) Even though we are imperfect, Jesus has kindly accepted us, so we should never even think of rejecting anyone!
19 As we get closer to the end of this wicked system, people will become more divided, prejudiced, and hateful. (Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Timothy 3:13) But as Jehovah’s people, we seek “the wisdom from above,” which helps us to be impartial and promotes peace. (James 3:17, 18) We are happy to make friends with people from other countries, accept the way they do things, and maybe even learn their language. When we do this, we enjoy peace “like a river” and justice “like the waves of the sea.”—Isaiah 48:17, 18.
20. What happens when love changes the way we think and feel?
20 When the sister from Australia studied the Bible, all her strong prejudice and hatred slowly disappeared. Love changed the way she thought and felt. The French-speaking brother from Canada says that he now realizes that people often hate others simply because they do not know them. He learned that “people’s qualities do not depend on their place of birth.” He even married a sister who speaks English! These examples prove that love overcomes prejudice. Love unites us with a bond that cannot be broken.—Colossians 3:14.
The term “brothers” can include sisters in the congregation. Paul wrote his letter to the “brothers” in Rome, but this clearly included sisters, because he mentioned some sisters by name. (Romans 16:3, 6, 12) For many years, The Watchtower has called Christians in the congregation ‘brothers and sisters.’