Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What do you see when you look at another person?

A few days ago I wrote about the very difficult exchange Jesus and his disciples had with the Gentile woman of Matthew 15: 21-28.

On the surface, the way Jesus responded, or at times, did not respond to the woman's plea for help, is an example of how not to show Christian compassion.But this is not the point of the story.

The woman was told two things:
1. The ministry of Jesus had a Jewish focus and would not expand beyond Israel (Matthew 15:24)
2. Jesus will not take the children's bread(Israel) and give it to dogs (Gentiles). Matthew 15: 26

The language and attitudes seem incredibly harsh, especially when spoken by the same Jesus who earlier welcomed the faith of the Gentile centurion as a pointer to Gentiles sharing in future blessings of Israel (see Matthew 8: 5-13).

I think the words in cold print conceals an element of irony, even a sense of playfulness in Jesus' tone which is hard to hear from this reading. If we could be there we would see the twinkle in his eye as he spoke to her!

At any rate, Jesus is confronting her with the language a Gentile expects to hear from a Jew and yet her faith remained resolute. She recognizes the priority of Jesus' mission to the house of Israel, but she also seems acutely aware of the promise of God to Abraham (Genesis 12: 1-3). She knew in due time that God's plan would stretch beyond the borders of Israel to include the families of the earth. For this faith she was richly rewarded.

Let me say one more thing: racism is still a factor in our world. We are still prone to judge people by the way they look, or by their history. If anything, this story helps us remember the power of God's mercy and grace to redefine what it means to be a person worthy of full acceptance. After all, we are made in the image of God.

Don't you think the tragic death of Trayvon Martin might have been averted if this young man was seen as another human being instead of a potential law breaker?