Daily Devotional for Small Group Discussion: Moving Past the Past
- When have you been surprised to learn about someone’s past?
- When have you made assumptions about a person’s present motives or future dreams, because of your understanding of their past?
- How do you nurture continued respect for the people you love? For the people in your community? For people around the world?
Some of the people who lived there in Jerusalem said among themselves, “Can it be that our leaders have learned after all, that he really is the Messiah? But how could he be? For we know where this man was born; when Christ comes, he will appear and no one will know where he comes from.” – John 7:25-27 (TLB, excerpted)
It is often said that familiarity breeds contempt, and unfortunately it is true in many cases. People feel that knowledge of our past gives them a certain license to determine our character and to prescribe our future. Our credit history determines our present credit worthiness. Past relationships are often viewed as indicators of our current suitability status. Voters are always looking for the “different” breed of candidate not cut from the same cloth of “politics as usual.” Even the history of one’s ethnic group is sometimes used as an assessment of one’s potential.
Some of Jesus’ contemporaries dismissed the possibility of his identity as the Messiah on the sole basis of their presumed knowledge of his background. They knew of the rather nondescript, unimpressive vicinity of Nazareth where Jesus was reared. They knew of his working class, pedestrian parents. They may have even known something about the scandal that circulated around his birth.
People assumed that the person sent to save them could not possibly share any common origins with them. In the minds of many, the Messiah had to be shrouded in mystery; a person’s value could only be recognized in a person’s non-disclosure.
Our challenge today is to maintain respect for the people we’ve come to know intimately. Our challenge is to never lose courtesy, kindness or consideration for the people who are closest to us. Our challenge is to never get so familiar with anyone—or with anyone’s past—that we categorize them, lock them into profiles, prejudge them, or take them for granted. Our challenge is to discover divinity in the vicinity of our own backgrounds.
Knowledge of a person’s past is never tantamount to knowing the person. Anonymity should never be the price of anyone’s acceptance.
Gracious God, help us to remember this: “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us” (Ralph Waldo Emerson). Amen.
Kenneth L. Samuel is Pastor of Victory for the World Church, Decatur, Georgia.