University Congregational Church
Sept. 29, 2019
“The Day Jesus Was Wrong”
I thought long and hard about the title for today’s sermon: “The Day Jesus was Wrong”. I considered some others –
• “Jesus the bigot”
• “When Jesus used a racial slur”
• “Not your ordinary picture of Jesus”
• “Jesus missed the diversity class”
But I settled on “The Day Jesus was Wrong” because he was. It’s that simple. Even Jesus needed to be saved from his cultural bias.
Here’s what happened…
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Sometimes we try to protect Jesus and make him into a perfect, gentle, loving Jesus with blue eyes and a nicely groomed beard. But this Jesus we don’t recognize. What Jesus’ words plainly said was that the woman was a dog because of her nationality. That was racial arrogance. It was political provincialism. And that means that Jesus of Nazareth had yet to experience the liberating, ennobling, enlarging religion conversion that ultimately made him the Christ. Jesus needed saving from his own bias. Jesus called the woman a dog, which – in today’s vernacular – made him a racist pig.
Lately, we’ve discovered again that people we would rather had better histories did make mistakes in their past.
• Beloved Dr. Seuss supported Japanese internment camps
• John Wayne, as late as 1971, said he believed in white supremacy.
• Although Mother Teresa did much good in Calcutta, many of her medical facilities did not provide adequate medical services and she was personally opposed to basic measures for women’s equality
• Winston Churchill is hailed as leading the allies to victory in WWII, but he also diverted food away from India, leading to the starvation of up to 3 million people. Boredomtherapy.com
It is true that many of the people we look to as heroes and heroines have not totally lived up to their own reputations. Jesus certainly made mistakes – from what little we know about his childhood, we know that he did not obey his parents and caused them trouble and worry when he stayed behind in the temple. We know that he lost his temper in the temple and upset the tables. We know that he regularly challenged the leaders and authorities. Over the years, people have made excuses for him and praised him for doing it – but we certainly don’t extend the same honor to others throughout history or even today who rebel against parents, authority figures and religious leaders!
To his ill-conceived remark about dogs, the woman shot back, “Sir, even the dogs under the table ate the children’s crumbs.” Matthew says that Jesus was silent for a moment before he called her people dogs. He had been arrogant, perhaps unintentionally small minded, and unconsciously callous. He thought about this brave woman, with a faith bigger and braver than any he had thus far witnessed among his own people, perhaps with a faith even larger than his own.
And then he broke the silence, and with it the chains of his own bias. “You’re right,” he replied quietly but, I am sure, fervently. “You may go – your daughter is healed.” Jesus had been converted by the woman.
The fact that this story can shock us is evidence of how thorough and complete Jesus’ conversion was. Much of the rest of the New Testament is paced with a note of eager and inclusive universalism: standing in the temple in the very week of his death, he declared, “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations”. (Mark 11:17)
Later he said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” (Matt. 28:19)
But this story, told in Matthew and Mark, lets us in on the truth: even Jesus needed to be called into account for his words. Even Jesus needed a conversion.
Studies by Glock & Stark at the University of California at Berkeley discovered that the incidence of anti-Semitism among church people is higher than so-called non-believers. That tells us something significant: that Christians who are supposed to value what we have received from God are not willing to share it or extend it to others. We have hardened hearts.
But one of the results of conversion is an impatient unease with anything that makes persons less than persons.
* The young person with multiple piercings and tattoos are to get the same grace we do.
* The turtle slow drivers with white hair are to get the same grace we do.
* The immigrants – wherever they are from – are to get the same grace we do.
* The children in poor neighborhoods are to get the same grace of those in the suburbs.
* The man with sagging pants and gang gestures is to get the same grace we do.
* The single mother with several scruffy kids is to get the same grace we do.
What counts with God and with the people of God is not the color of one’s face, not the shape of one’s smile, not the cause of one’s snarl. What counts with God and with God’s people is simply and solely the person. Until we can see that, something is lacking in our religion. Until we can say that, something is missing in our conversion. We can make all the distinctions we want, but God does not see them. The Bible is clear about that.
Conversion, as Benjamin Garrison writes, “involves the pit of the stomach and the whole of the brain. It invokes heart and hand and checkbook; it includes beliefs and hesitations. It leaps over any wall, responds to any need, bears any rebuke, and goes to any length to meet and greet and gain the brother and sister, even if at that moment, they are not acting like brothers and sisters.”
This is what we can learn from Jesus’ conversion. But there’s more to this story. We can also learn from the woman. She went to Jesus – the healer – the “Son of God” – the teacher – for healing and hope. And she got slapped down. Ever feel slapped down? From a person? From God?
When we are insulted, we have the opportunity to respond. Usually, our responses are chosen from this list: endure the insult; refute the statement; return with an insult; or escalate the confrontation. This woman did none of the above. She took Jesus’ words and broke them open for examination. “Even the dogs get the scraps from the table.” She made him look in the mirror and examine his words. I’ll bet it was the last time he called someone a dog.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to see the truth which is invisible to those on the inside. Not everyone who calls themselves Christian has enlarged their hearts to let Christ in.