An interesting story in the lectionary today. The Pharisees went to Jesus with what they thought was a trick question, is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor? (Matthew 22.15-22). Jesus’ response was to show them a coin and ask whose image was on it. Their reply was “the emperor’s image”, Jesus suggested that they should give to the emperor what was the emperor’s and to God what was God’s. A clever way out of the conversation and one which could lead us into a great discussion on the separation of church and state which exists in the USA. However, I’ll table that for another day.
Today I want to think a little about bias. As I read this story the phrase that really caught my attention was part of the sentence used by the Pharisees when lauding Jesus “… you do not regard people with partiality” (16). Partiality is usually described as an unfair bias in favour of one thing or person, or as favouritism.
Clearly, not showing partiality was considered an admirable quality. I wondered what they had seen in Jesus to choose that trait.
Was it the way women and children were welcomed and included?
Was it the way rich and poor alike were ministered to?
Recently, I blogged about how a woman showed Jesus that the ministry entrusted to him was open for all not just one group of people.
Certainly, this idea of not showing partiality was picked up by the apostle Paul in the letter to the Galatians. “There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male or female …” (3.29)
This really could become a fascinating debate. From other parts of the scriptures, I could reason that Jesus did show a bias to the poor, those treated unjustly and those hurting.
Was that partiality?
Or was it a quest for justice, a championing of those who were on the margins?
At what point does a quest for justice become partiality?
Sometimes the line between the two seems very faint.
Of course, a starting point for this discussion would be what is meant by fair as partiality is defined as an unfair bias. It is a conversation I had with a class recently. Fair does not mean just being equal. It is far more nuanced and complex than that.
Currently, the world is in a bit of a mess. There are two serious wars being fought and unrest in several other regions. The chasm between right- and left-wing politics seems to be getting wider. Racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. have not been eliminated — sometimes I wonder if this hatred of the other is even gaining in intensity in some places.
The real need is to recognize our biases (and I find that keeps happening repeatedly as something is said or seen that brings me face-to-face with yet another bias).
I want to challenge injustices I see. In whatever small way I can, I want to be able to say “this is wrong” without showing partiality. It is simply wrong because it is wrong!
So, from the lectionary this week a lot to muse over — partiality, bias, fairness and injustice — I hope you’ll join me in pondering on them.