In the face of such incredibly sad news of yet another shooting inspired by racist screeds and politicalized hate in our country, I offer a few words and stories about the heart of who Jesus was. Remember the story of the Canannite woman (not named because the Bible’s historical context is such that women were not as valued or important) who asked Jesus to heal her daughter? It is the story of a desperate Mom who would go to any lengths to save her daughter, easily found in Matthew 15:21-28. She is hollering after the disciples, relentless and determined to get to speak to Jesus. Finally, the disciples acquiesce, and when she is allowed to approach Jesus, a Jewish man, he dismisses her with a “why should I take the bread from the children and give it to the dogs?” And she replies, “even the dogs deserve the crumbs from the table.”
Jesus is rude and dismissive, telling an outsider and foreigner that she is not worthy. But notice, that through the woman’s persistence, cleverness, and wit Jesus changes his mind. Yes, Jesus, fully divine and fully human changes his mind. It is the unnamed woman that is the spokesperson for Creator God in this story. It is not that she is better than Jesus, but in this story, God uses his beloved daughter to open Jesus’ eyes and heart to the scope of who Jesus was called to serve. Not just his own kin, but the whole world. After this story, Jesus is deliberately more open and inclusive. After the persistence of this mama-bear, Jesus never again uses “Othering Language” in the gospel of Matthew. (As we know, of course, Jesus teachings are very often misused in a divisive manner).
I find this story inspiring and incredibly meaningful. That my savior, God’s son, over the course of his ministry on earth was able to be taught and changed by the folks around him. I need a Savior who is both incredibly wise and incredibly understanding. I need a Savior who was a product of his cultural context and also incredibly open-minded. I need a Savior a little less-than-perfect so that I give myself more grace. And I need a Savior like Jesus in times like these so that I can have hope for this country I live in.
As we wrestle with the sheer amount of hatred, racism, and othering that is happening in our country, it can be so easy to lose hope. When we read of the brainwashing and influence that social media has on so many of the white supremacy, replacement theory, anti-trans, anti-gay conversations that are happening, it makes me angry. But in order for the shootings to stop, for the hatred and racism to decrease, loving and kind people like us need two things; one--an ability to articulate the opposite, and two--a belief that people’s hate-soaked minds can be changed. Jesus gives me this hope, in a curious way, perhaps. And, honestly, you all give me this hope. I think we are called to use our goodness, our voice and our platforms (no matter how small they are) to speak the alternative. To instead speak of a God who calls us to be “repairers of the breech (Isaiah 58), and a Jesus who through his teaching and living showed us that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female—or any of the other silly boxes we like to put on one another in (Galatians 3:28). We are all one, and we need one another.
And here another really special nuance—we are one and we are united—but that doesn’t mean that we have to be the same. In the same way that God reveled in the diversity of Creation and called it all good in the book of Genesis…I believe that our cultural uniqueness, the ways we celebrate holidays, the food, dress, faiths, etc, are what make life vibrant and fun. So we yearn for unity--and we celebrate the diversity around us too. I hope that throughout this Asian American Pacific Islanders (AAPI) Heritage month that you have taken the time to learn with and engage with a culture and identity different than your own that is among this vast part of our world. Read a book by an AAPI author, follow an AAPI Instagram account, or perhaps just pause and greet an AAPI neighbor and spend time getting to know them instead of rushing off to work or lawn duty.
Jesus said to the Cannanite woman, “Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” The faith Jesus is referencing is her wild and unrelenting determination that she was worthy of help and love. It was a reminder for Jesus. It is a reminder for each of us too. YOU are worthy of God’s love…THEY are worthy of God’s love. WE are worthy of God’s love. Let us please, for the sake of a world that needs it, persevere in sharing that message.
-Rev. Sara P.