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Would you be upset if I told you that I know for a fact that Jesus is wrong, that he is full of the same ethnic and religious prejudices that are a product of his culture? I hope that you are not shocked to find out that Jesus is not all knowing, that he was still learning throughout his adult ministry on earth. I know that it shocked me to realize that Jesus is of the same mortal coil as you and I. Yet, for him to be otherwise would diminish an essential aspect of Christ’s incarnation, the fact that he was human.
This passage is shocking to me for a couple of reasons. First, it shocks me that Jesus uses such raw language with this woman looking for help. What happened to loving your neighbor as yourself? Jesus says something that most of you would fire me for if I said in good company. He seems so mean and ethnically prejudiced.
Second, how can Jesus make the wrong decision? This seems to go against my need for a Superman. It appears that he acknowledges that he was wrong and when enlightened by the Syrophoencian gentile Jesus changes his mind. Things are not always what they appear to us. In the beginning of this text he is not the gentle Jesus that I saw in my children’s Bible.
I hope that you will let me indulge in telling one of the first jokes I ever heard. My father told me this joke when I was a little boy. I am sure that you have heard it, it is a classic.
Once a Baptist preacher, a Methodist preacher and a Catholic priest go fishing with each other one summer day. As they share a thermo of coffee it becomes a morning of deep ecumenical discussion. They talked about Salvation, they talked about their differences in Baptism, they talked about the differences in their worship services. As the early morning sun begins to crest the coffee begins to make its way to each of their bladders.
“Excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom” says the Baptist minister and stands up in the boat. Climbing over the edge he appears to walk on the water and to a wooded area on the shoreline. In a few minutes he walks back, climbing back into the boat and picks up his fishing rod.
A few minutes later the Methodist excuses himself and climbs out of boat, walking across the lake to the wooded area. After a few minutes he returns to the boat and picks up his fishing rod as if nothing has happened.
The Catholic priest sat through all this in amazement. Even though he was astounded, he didn’t want to betray that he was shocked that others might possess something miraculous. So, he sat and wondered. As the morning moved on the Catholic priest shifted uncomfortably in his bench. His bladder was about to burst and he really could not hold it any longer.
So, he said a small prayer and said, “Excuse me, I need to go to the bathroom.” After taking a deep breath and muttering “help me Jesus” the priest stands and steps out of the boat. Before he knows what hits him he is plunging headlong into the water. Not wanting to face his friends he swims to the shore and waits for them to finish in the boat.
Chuckling to each other the Baptist turns to the Methodist and exclaims, “Do you think we should have shown him the rocks?”
Okay you can groan now.
Things are not always what they appear. Our perspectives as finite creatures is not all encompassing. We often think that our worldview is absolute, but it is one of many. We think that our success as a country means that we have some sort of moral authority. Although many believe that our power is a sign of God’s blessing, others see it at a sign of oppression.
What Jesus is reminded by the Syropheonecian gentile woman is that he is forgetting part of his own Jewish wisdom tradition and heritage. Jesus is compelled as a person of faith to recognize and help the stranger. She reminds Jesus that she is a living being worthy of help. Jesus acknowledges her faith and all the rest of us Gentiles are eternally grateful.
Often we think that our success as a country means that we have some sort of moral authority in the world. That our perspective is immutable and walking through the New Mexico desert for work is inferior. I know we don’t saying it that way, but that is what it all seems to come down to in the end. We have done this for years in the church. Baptists, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Catholics, Assembly of God, Holiness, Orthodox, Methodist, Lutherans and we all think that our views are Christ’s. How humbling it is to see a messiah that everyone is sure they know best change is mind out of the wise statement of another.
If you think you are better than anyone one else in the world, you are wrong. Whether it be the Mullah in Iran or the annoying neighbor down the street. We are once again called to love our neighbor, no matter who they may be. This is the essence of being good. As Madeleine Delbrel points out, “[t]here is no authentic love of God without love of neighbor, and their is no love of neighbor without goodness.”
So, we are back to were we are often with Jesus. We are called to show concrete, actionable love to others, even strangers. It is the path of wisdom. It is the path of resisting being right over doing right to others. Jesus is shown to be wrong and we are the ones who benefit.
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