Reputations and labels
When you live in a country like Israel/Palestine, identity, labels and reputations suddenly become a very big part of your life.
I often describe society in Nazareth as a large jigsaw puzzle, with each person being a piece of the puzzle to be placed into the whole. When you meet a new person, you try to find their place, where they fit in the puzzle. This process starts with their family name, which can indicate religion, or perhaps a relationship to your family. Then you go through friends and acquaintances until you can place the person into the puzzle, knowing where they fit in society and what reputation they have. This then informs you as to how to interact with them, to trust them or not, to befriend them or not, or whether they can be useful to you or influential.
In the wider society of Israel, this applies on a more generalised scale – each section of society has its label, not just a name, but perhaps a reputation as well, for being educated, or for being criminal, for being discriminated against, for being racist, for being untrustworthy, for having lax morals, for being dangerous or for being traitors. This applies from every perspective, with each group of people being distinguished or labelled; interaction with them becomes based on either common beliefs or fear.
Coming from the individualistic, Western society, this can seem a strange system. However, Westerners also make their own judgements, often with little to no evidence, just in their own ways.
How interesting that Jesus Himself, in His life on earth, asked His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” – He knew that there would be speculation and, just as reputations may be wrong or justly earned, His was both. They said He was John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or some other prophet. They knew He was significant, followed God and had a gift, but they didn’t know the complete story of who He really was.
Reputation can give us clues as to who someone is, but also can be wrongly applied or understood. In a country where identity and reputation are so important, it is just as important to meet people where they are and learn about them. Reputation may help us to understand them, but should never prevent us from interacting. There is so much to be learned and to be gained by interacting even with those we least identify with, whether culturally or politically.
It may be good to even ask Jesus’ question of ourselves, before approaching or judging others. Who do people say that we are? And as we answer that, to assess-is it correct or not? Partially? Wholly? Or not at all? When we reflect on who people say we are, and how inadequate a description that usually provides, then we can approach others with not only knowledge of their labels and reputations, but also with awareness-an awareness that they are far more than any label which might be given to them and also that they can be mislabelled just as easily as Jesus was.
As we meet people in this Holy Land, we need to remember that whatever the outward label, every person we meet is a unique creation, and with that, every person provides an opportunity for us to show them the truth of God’s love, compassion and care for all.
- Northern Star