Thursday, September 13, 2018
There Is Only We
There Is Only We
(Meditation on Mark 7:24-30 & James 2:1-10, 17)
In one of my favorite and rather troubling passages of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is met by a gentile woman who asks him to heal her daughter. He basically calls her a dog (we all know the modern word for female dog) and says he won’t heal her daughter. She’s one of those others, one of those gentiles, and he’s not going to waste his time with her.
She persists and pleads with him, that even if she is a dog, she’ll take whatever scraps he drops for her. Jesus then has a change of heart. “For saying that,” Jesus then says, “you may go - the demon has left your daughter.”
What in the world is going on here? I thought Jesus was supposed to be without sin, and yet here he is calling this woman a dog and refusing to heal her daughter because she is the other. Was he testing her, as I’d often heard asserted in various efforts to defend Jesus’ actions? Maybe, but that’s a bit too easy, to let Jesus off the hook like that. He wouldn’t test the faith or devotion of a gentile woman, one who wouldn’t have had any faith in God in the first place. Such notions seem like they’re just trying to defend Jesus’ goodness as God.
Lest we forget, however, Jesus is also fully human. As a human Jesus had to learn and grow as we all do. He had an uncanny knowledge and wisdom of the scriptures, and we’re also told that he grew in wisdom as he grew up. He learned as he went, as he was taught. He might have been taught some wrong things.
Centuries ago in America, many white folks in our country believed that black Africans were not fully human but rather some lesser being. They therefore had no problem enslaving Africans and later African Americans because they viewed them as the other. Something else. Something lesser. The slave owners and others in America would of course teach this view to their children, that black people were the other, were less than human. Children grew up knowing this to be true.
Then, some of these children began having real interactions with their enslaved fellow humans, and they began to understand that what they had been taught was wrong. They began to understand that being from a different part of the earth and having a different skin color didn’t make people less than human. It didn’t make them other. They were all brothers and sisters.
I don’t know if something similar happened to Jesus, but he did grow up in a society which looked down on non-Jews and referred to them as “gentile dogs.” Jesus was likely taught that same view as a child, knowing that gentiles were beneath him.
Then he met one, a gentile woman with a sick daughter. A mother who loved her daughter and would take any insult and debasement if it meant healing for her daughter. A mother’s love, like his mother’s love. Human, not some lesser thing. Perhaps this is what Jesus realized in his interaction with the gentile woman, and he saw her and all gentiles not as the other, but as beloved brothers and sisters. In John’s Gospel (10:6), Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” Perhaps Jesus’ ministry to the gentiles and his realization that they belonged to him just as much as the people of Israel happened in this interaction with the gentile woman.
We don’t know, but it certainly honors the full humanity of Jesus as he learned what it was to be fully human. Being fully and truly human means there are no distinctions between us. There is no “us” and “them.” James points this out in his letter. “Do you by your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ?” No. In our acts of favoritism and our us vs. them mentality, we can’t really say that we do.
In the Episcopal Church, we have a bit of a history of acts of favoritism, a bit of a reputation for accepting the well to do and having some reservations for those who are less fortunate. This reputation is somewhat justified, somewhat not, and I see us getting better. We’re becoming more of a community of all.
To be fair, all churches have some form of other. Some churches won’t allow folks who believe in evolution to be a part of them, even if they also believe in creation. Some won’t allow folks who question their faith. If you wonder too much, then you are declared other.
A young woman I know has been questioning her faith…not really questioning her faith, just pretty sure she doesn’t believe in the faith of Jesus, and so she has been exploring other beliefs. Now, she hasn’t been looking at one of the other Abrahamic faith, not Judaism or Islam, nor has she explored any of the more known faiths of the world, Buddhism, Hinduism. She’s been exploring a faith that Christians would think is pretty out there. We’ve been discussing this, and I’ve been giving some counsel, not to keep her following Jesus (I can’t and wouldn’t make her do that), but to consider well the ways and beliefs of this other faith.
So, last Sunday, she told me that she had decided on this other faith, but she hadn’t fully converted yet, and she asked me if she could still have communion. “Of course you can,” I said. Nothing could prevent her from being able to join in this meal of Jesus’ body and blood. Nothing can separate her from the love of God in Jesus Christ. Even though she believes in a different faith, she is not the other.
We have all sorts of others in our world today. People of different religions. People from different countries. Worst of all, different political parties - those damn Democrats and those awful Republicans. We have such a propensity for declaring someone else as other, and yet Jesus shows us in his interaction with the gentile woman, that there is no actual other.
If ever there was an other, we would be the other to God. Wholly different from God, creatures rather than creator, and yet God became human so that we are not other than God. In becoming human in Jesus, God became one with us.
Christian, Jew, Muslim, believer, non-believer, atheist. Republican, Democrat, American, Russian, native, immigrant. Gay, straight, transgender, cisgender, conservative, liberal. Black life, blue life. There is no other. There is only we, all of us one with God.