The teary-eyed, African-American woman turned from the fast-food counter in San Bernardino, Calif., her takeout bag in hand and young son standing by her side. “I have never, ever felt so disrespected in my entire life,” she said to me. I looked around.
Good grief! I thought. What have I done this time?
“I’m sorry,” I responded, not a little embarrassed. “Is there a problem?”
She explained—loudly—that she had handed the cashier a $20 bill at which point the young gal held the money above her head, examining it carefully before announcing it “clean.”
“I watched the other three cashiers take $20 bills, and none of them checked the bills. It was an absolute disrespect to my color. This is 2016. I’m married to a white man, an attorney, and I’m going to call him right now and file a complaint. My son has read about this type of prejudice, but he’s never seen it. I feel so disrespected.”
“Do you think there’s any chance this is just a coincidence?” I asked.
“No,” she said, looking at me like I had just crawled out of a dumpster. “It’s obvious she thinks that because I’m black I’m using counterfeit money. I’m going outside to call my husband.” I turned to Dave, my husband, who was pretending not to hear our conversation. “She’s really ticked,” I told him.
“I didn’t notice,” he said, staring at the menu board.
Dave and I were driving to California last year when we (correction: when I) observed this woman’s wrath. I suggested we wait in our car for her husband to arrive, just in case I was needed as a witness to a crime. Dave started the engine and skedaddled out of the parking lot.
I don’t know if the customer had a legitimate complaint, but let’s assume she did. Let’s assume the gal behind the counter was prejudice against blacks. Let’s assume none of us would have behaved like that. After all, as Christians, we love everyone…right? We can’t possibly have a prejudiced bone in our judgmental little bodies, now can we?
The Bible spends several chapters addressing personal prejudices, especially the ones between the Gentiles and the Jews. Even Peter was guilty—until the Lord forced him to face his bigotry when He orchestrated events to bring together Peter and Cornelius, who, from childhood, had been taught to disrespect (despise) each other. To Peter, Cornelius was a leader in the hated Roman/Gentile military whose job it was to oppress the Jews, and to Cornelius, Peter was from the opposite side of the camel tracks, a low-life Jew.
Until God got involved.
He did the unpredictable. God put in motion two events: He sent an angel to Cornelius who instructed him to send his soldiers for Peter; and He gave Peter three visions making it clear the Jews now could eat “unclean” Gentile food (a big No-No in Mosaic Law). Things were imploding on both fronts.
The end of this story is probably more optimistic than the San Bernardino one. At Cornelius’ home, Peter preached the “Good News” to Cornelius, his family and friends, and they committed their lives to Jesus and were baptized. Peter’s words (written in Acts 1:34-35) summarize the event. “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.”
The result? We Gentiles (non-Jews) are fellow partakers of the promise in Jesus Christ, all because two men were willing to do things God’s way and not their own. I would guess the San Bernardino outcome might have been drastically different had both women chosen to do the same.