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Sunday, 17 August 2014

Insults which challenge prejudice

Jesus was damn rude to the Canaanite Woman in today's Gospel reading (Matthew 15. 21 - 28). He begins by making it clear that she is not one of the chosen people for whom he has come and continues by insulting her and her people in calling them 'dogs'.

Why is he so uncharacteristically rude? His disciples want him to send the woman away; ostensibly because of the fuss she is making but, more probably, because she is not one of 'them'. Jesus throws their prejudices at the woman both as a way of confronting his disciples with the ugliness of their prejudice and as a provocation that reveals the faith within this woman.

In the face of seeming denial and insult, she persists in her request and in her faith in Jesus' ability and willingness to heal. On the back of this tangible example of faith, Jesus is then able to challenge the prejudices of his disciples (as was his intent from the outset) by pointing out the depth of faith which he had uncovered in a woman of another race, culture and faith.

In the course of the Gospels Jesus tends to call on his disciples to grow in their faith (e.g. Matthew 14. 31), to condemn the lack of faith found in religious leaders (e.g. Matthew 15. 14) and, as here, to commend the faith found in those of others races, cultures and faiths (e.g. Matthew 8. 10).

This interpretation of this incident as a deliberate challenge to the prejudices of his disciples is consistent with the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10. 25 - 37) where Jesus tells a group of God's chosen people a story in which one of their own receives help, not from his own people, but from a man of another race, culture and faith. In this story, Jesus goes further than his already radical teaching of love for our enemies by telling a story in which a member of God's chosen people receives God's love and help from a person that he considers to be outside the people of God and an enemy of his own people.  

However we choose to draw the boundaries of who is and who is not one of God's people, Jesus breaks through those boundaries with his love for all people, his sacrificial giving for all and his recognition of all that those who are excluded actually have to offer to those who exclude.


Mark Heard - Strong Hand Of Love.

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