One of this week’s Scriptures has always troubled me. In Matthew 15.21-28 Jesus is a jerk – kind of a racist jerk. This raises a lot of questions.
First, we have to wonder if it really happened. Jesus first ignores the Canaanite woman’s needs and then calls her a dog. That’s not nice. Jesus is nice. We know that from Sunday School as children. A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Jesus feeding five thousand people. That’s nice. That’s the Jesus we like, the one we want to tell others about. Not racist Jesus. This passage reminds us that our ideas about who Jesus are constructed. We have an idea of who he should be and we tend to filter out the things that do not match up with that idea. Everyone does this, even Matthew.
Matthew chose to include this story in his narrative. It also appears in Mark 7.24-30. Mark, the first gospel, is source material for both Matthew and Luke, but Luke omits this story. Matthew also edits it slightly, adding the details that Jesus first ignored the woman and then told her explicitly that his mission did not include her. It is impossible to think that Matthew did not have a theological agenda in the way he presents this story. That is, there is something he intends to tell us about Jesus by giving us this story in this way. Why does Matthew want us to see racist Jesus?
I’m honestly not sure I have an answer to that question, but I do notice something: Jesus changed his mind. One of the core doctrinal understandings of God’s nature is that God does not change. God cannot change because that implies that God is deficient in some way that necessitates change. God is perfect. If we hold that Jesus is entirely God with all the properties that we attribute to God, Jesus must also be perfect. That probably means Jesus shouldn’t say racist things, but it also means that Jesus shouldn’t change.
One way of dealing with this problem is to say that Jesus knew what the Canaanite woman would say and do and knew how he would respond. So, he didn’t really change his mind. (We see similar explanations of God bargaining with Abraham over the fate of Sodom and Gomorra in Genesis 18.) Jesus was just playing with her, challenging her to assert her own humanity. Besides being cruel, this also reads some things into Matthew’s text, possibly borrowing from John’s Jesus, who knows everything. Matthew’s Jesus changes his mind.
The fear of admitting that God changes is that there is nothing stable, nothing holding things together. In terms of salvation, it is said that the only thing that can redeem the imperfect is that which is absolutely, unquestionably perfect, that which never needs redemption. But maybe only that which has experience of redemption can properly deliver redemption. What if God, present in Jesus as a finite human being, must experience change, like all human beings? Jesus, like all human beings, has a limited point of view that is constructed by a particular time and place. When he began his ministry, he had an idea of its scope, an idea of who was excluded. But in this encounter with a stranger, a woman with whom he has nothing in common, he learns. He transcends the boundary lines that had been drawn for him. Perhaps that tells us something about who God is and what life in God is like: boundary-crossing; ever-expanding kindness; vulnerability; and willingness to change for the sake of love and justice.
Please join us this Sunday at 11am. Because of a snafu with the city, we don’t have Kidd Springs this week. Instead, Ashley and Fred Pena have generously offered their home (410 E. 5th St. by Lake Cliff Park) for our Sunday service. We’ll talk about the politics of boundary-breaking and the ability to change our minds and we’ll wrap it all in some familiar music. Hope to see you there!
Grace & Peace,
As you know, Church in the Cliff signed a 1-year lease for the building at 1719 W. 10th to be our new home. The board is working on the details to get us moved in right now and we will need your help. Assuming we have electricity, we are going to have a church work day on August 30th. We need to move some furniture, so we’ll need a truck. We will also repaint and clean and decorate a little. If we don’t have electricity by the 30th, we will reschedule for September 6th. If you are interested in helping, email board@churchinthecliff. Also, the move is requiring some additional expenditures, as we knew it would, so if you can help out with a special donation, we would appreciate it. You can mail checks to P.O. Box 5072, Dallas, TX 75208 or bring them to church with you on Sunday.