Readings: Isaiah 56: 1-8; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: 21-28
In Isaiah, God we hear of a God who does not discriminate. All people are welcome in God`s house. God`s house is a place of welcome and prayer for all of God`s children, including those who have been specifically excluded - in Isaiah`s time that meant foreigners and eunuchs. Acceptability to God is not defined by ethnicity or sexuality, but by keeping the Sabbath and holding fast to the covenant.
When you were the chosen people, the ones delivered to the promised land, to be told that acceptability is not defined by ethnicity must have been a pretty big call. In Romans, Paul is trying to make it clear to the people that God has not abandoned the Jewish people, God`s compassion is available to all who believe, no matter their heritage. God wants to have compassion towards all people.
Throughout time there seems to have been a continual struggle over people`s historical and traditional view of who is acceptable to God. Times change, the world that 94-year-old Ron grew up in was very different to the world that I grew up in and that world is not same as the world of today that 3-year-old Josephat is growing up in. Whilst our traditions and cultural heritage are important and help to shape us, we also have to ensure that we are living a life that holds true to our Christian values but is also alive and relevant to today`s world. Sometimes this requires us to reflect on what we believe and question our reasoning.
In today`s reading from Matthew, the Gentile woman`s shouting disturbs Jesus` disciples, but he ignores her - not the sort of response we`re used to from Jesus. When he finally speaks to her, his words are dismissive and insulting - again, not what we would expect. But with courage and humour the woman leads Jesus to change his mind - and to expand his mission beyond Israel. Ã¢ÂÂWoman, how great is your faith!Ã¢ÂÂ Jesus exclaims, and clearly Matthew presents her as an example for his community and for us. It`s in this spirited encounter with a woman who refuses to have her daughter`s value diminished that Jesus comes to a new understanding. It is in meetings like this, with people on the margins, that new wisdom and compassion are found.
The abandonment of prejudice, the crossing of the traditional boundary, is the good news of the story and why it was told. It is hard not to draw the conclusion that Jesus, himself, had to make a transition, had to learn. His response was more typical of the rather conservative Judaism of the time. Jesus was human, too. Here we see that that he was a product of his environment, just like we are influenced by our upbringing. But just like Jesus we can change our views when confronted. This can be a very confronting process. Sometimes it is total strangers who cause us to confront our beliefs but more often than not it is the people we know and love.
Slaves used to be quite acceptable and predominantly black people were exploited. Aboriginal children were taken from their parents to supposedly give the children a better life. It was not that long ago that divorce was frowned upon and was a bit of a scandal within the church. Within my lifetime, unmarried mothers had their children taken away from them. They were hidden away, marginalised and shamed. Refugees running from the horrors of their homeland come seeking a better life and here in Australia we lock them up. The bible can be used to justify and confirm all kinds of discrimination. However, we tend to use an interpretive lens to ensure that historical and cultural bias does not prevent us from loving and accepting everyone.
Today we debate marriage equality. I have read a couple of articles recently from conservative ministers who talk about why they have changed their minds. The key point seems to be that facts and rational argument don`t change people`s minds; it is listening to the experiences of others that really makes the difference.
Just as Jesus listened to the Gentile woman and her faith made him change his mind, so too we need to listen and get to know the refugees and aboriginal people, the gay community, those with mental health issues. When we know and love those marginalised as our friends then equality is not something that we can debate in the abstract. The debate becomes about real people.
The picture at the top of the page says it all, Science is real, black lives matter, no human is illegal, love is love, women`s rights are human rights and kindness is everything. This is the way we are called to live, in the 21st century!