"Jesus the reformed racist…"

That would be the finding of the very ummm…let me be kind here…intellectually incurious, so-saturated- with -political correctness that they can no longer think, or view anything but through their narrow, narrow prism – Anglican Church of Canada:

The Anglican Church of Canada (ACoC) has published a Lenten reflection that portrays Jesus as a racist who saw the error of his ways after being challenged by the Canaanite woman in Matthew’s Gospel. The ACoC was long ago taken over by politically correct bores but, as Anglican Samizdat notes, this “reflection” turns Jesus into a sinner – in Christian terms, a pretty basic heresy. Here’s the reflection. Sick-bags at the ready:

“… 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.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the houseof 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 master’s table.’ ” – Matthew 14:22-27

This not a story for people who need to think that Jesus always had it together, because it looks like we’ve caught him being mean to a lady because of her ethnicity. At first, he ignores her cries. Then he refuses to help her and compares her people to dogs.

But she challenges his prejudice. And he listens to her challenge and grows in response to it. He ends up healing her daughter. What we may have here is an important moment of self-discovery in Jesus’ life, an enlargement of what it will mean to be who he was. Maybe we are seeing Jesus understand his universality for the first time.

Yay! A marginalized woman made Jesus see the light! The perfect narrative for the 21st Century!

The Man-God is once again being deconstructed to appear only human – faulty and human and sinful, just like the rest of us.

Suits the narrative. And it IS the season of Lent/Easter, so hone your sense of humor. You’ll be seeing a lot more of this silliness for the next 40 days or so.

I know that particular story in scripture has bothered some of our more enlightened, “progressive” friends. Almost ten years ago I had a discussion with a man who insisted that this story – and Christ’s admonition that his disciples, when rejected, “shake the dust of that town off their feet” – proved that Christ had moments of dark malevolence – he wasn’t really any better than the rest of us.

Well. We all know people will believe what they want, so I frankly wouldn’t waste time trying to convince anyone of anything. I’ve always taken a line through Bernadette Soubirous of Lourdes, who told her disbelieving church and secular leadership, “it’s not my job to convince. Only to inform.”

And of course, how you receive something is entirely up to you.

The problem with embracing evangelical/fundamentalis secularism – and that is what this Canadian Anglican group is offering up, make no mistake – is that like most fundamentalisms, there is no room for broad-minding pondering. There is no opportunity to imagine that Jesus could possibly be motivated by anything, in that scene, but “prejudice” and “meanness”.

I’ve always loved that story because in my view, Jesus is challenging that woman to deliver her authentic self to him. As I wrote here:

[Jesus] He never “loves us too much to challenge” us. The scene above is a good example. I have read some commentators suggest that Jesus’ exchange with this woman is an occasion of Jesus being “dark” or “unloving,” but I have never received it that way. Rather, he seems to me to be acting here as a good teacher who wants his student to “stand and deliver,” so to speak.

I know, I know, “stand and deliver” is the catchphrase of highwaymen and thieves but what it really breaks down to is, “hand over the goods, deliver to me what is valuable.” I believe in Jesus’ case, he wants us to expose and bring forth to him our inmost selves.

Remember, Jesus is the Divine Teacher, and a good teacher finds the way to bring out the very best in students, not simply to teach them rote answers (although that has its place) but to make them “deliver of themselves,” to put something more behind their answers. He does it over and over in the Gospels – makes people declare what it is they want, why they are coming to him. His challenge says, “stand and deliver – to be more fully the man or woman you are, and not some prostrate creature.”

Consider, had the story played differently, had Jesus simply said, “okay, fine, your kid is healed” it would not not have been as memorable and a key bit of info would not have been passed along (the important message to the Gentiles – do not be afraid to seek your salvation here, it’s for you, too) but perhaps more importantly, on a personal level, the woman would not have been lifted up, would not have had her cleverness (the gift of her individuality and mind) acknowledged. She would have been one more woman ducking her head and lowering her eyes. Instead – after that encounter with Christ – she had dignity and could hold her head up. I believe THOSE are the reasons Christ challenged her.

This is a wonderful story and Jesus made here a wonderful challenge to a woman who had been raised in a culture that thought of her as mere chattel: show me who you are. Stand up tall. Be yourself. Speak your piece.

There is nothing “dark” in any of that, and there could not be, for He is all Light. I love it. Jesus rocks!

There is nothing nefarious in Jesus telling the apostles to “shake the dust of that town off your feet,” either.

“Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words–go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
— Matthew 10:14-15

It’s cultural. And we’re supposed to be fascinated and celebratory about cultural things, aren’t we? You “shake the dust off your feet” to indicate that nothing there has “stuck” to you; you do it to declare yourself in no way connected to that place. Since the apostles had been rejected, that would have been a reasonable statement to make: “You do not belong to us; even your dust does not belong, and we do not belong to you – nor does your fate touch us.”

But if you want to put an Eastern spin on it – because everyone knows that the Eastern religions are much, much more enlightened and palatable than either Christianity or Judaism – you can suggest, as a Taoist I know has, that Jesus was simply telling them to “shake the negative energy off of themselves, not take it with them in their travels.”

Because, again, you don’t want that negative energy following you – you don’t want their karma stuck to you.

Seems a Taoist can have a more open and tolerant mind about Jesus than the people who incorrectly call themselves “liberal” these days. A Taoist can look at the words of the Christ – in whom he does not believe – and say, “yeah, I get it.”

But a “broad-minded” intellectual type can only see “darkness”. Can only see Jesus being “mean” instead of “nice.”

“Be nice” is what intellectualism has been reduced to.

A friend of mine sent me a quote by Chesterton, one I hadn’t seen before:

Ambition narrows as the mind expands.

For once I disagree with the big man. It almost seems to me that a mind narrows, as ambition expands. In the quest to socially mandate “niceness” – the ambition to be “sensitive, tolerant and compassionate” to everyone, all the time, in that vapid “everyone-is-special” manner – the broad ambition has narrowed the minds. And apparently stultified them, too.

Fundamentalism can do that – shut down the mind and forbid wondering – whether it is Christian, Jewish, Muslim…or even secular-humanist and politically correct.

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  • BackwardsBoy

    It’s easy to see the intellectual vacuum present itself as the postmodernists and politically correct attempt to deconstruct the Gospel in general and Jesus in particular.
    To grow in spirit involves questioning culture, and these days there is an awful lot to question. When you pursue Truth, you inevitably find yourself at odds with those purely cultural folks who are easily led, and any attempt to share your beliefs will be met with great resistance, which takes its’ form in accusations of “hatred”, an emotional overreaction and thus evidence of a closed mind.
    That type of thinking is the dust that I’ll gladly shake from my feet.

  • http://ejhill1925.wordpress.com/ ejhill1925

    I have long held the belief that the modern church sanitizes too much. The Bible says that God created man in his own image, but image is more than the physical.

    Look at what the Book says about God – He is jealous, full of vengeance and anger. Yet the church paints a picture that says He is all love and all forgiveness.

    And greater minds than mine have argued against God’s omniscience. If the fate of the world is written how come He didn’t know that flood thing wasn’t going to workout?

  • gs

    I am neither a Christian nor a believer. I often disagree with the Catholic Church and I do not accept its claims of magisterial status.

    I disagree. I do not accept.

    But the mindset in that Anglican piece, I can’t relate to at all. The words are English, but the language is completely unknown to me.

  • Bridey

    In the quest to socially mandate “niceness” – the ambition to be “sensitive, tolerant and compassionate” to everyone, all the time, in that vapid “everyone-is-special” manner – the broad ambition has narrowed the minds. And apparently stultified them, too.

    Well, whose ambition? I would say that the professionally tolerant have no such notion of peace, love, and understanding. They just know they’ve found an excellent club to beat the rest of us with. “Hate” and “intolerant” are, like “racist,” only terms to end debate, with no other meaning in the world.

    Just part of a whole collection of words and phrases (“hypocrite” is another one) to throw out when you want to make the opposition shut up and slink away or, failing that, start defending themselves and forget what the argument was about.

    Absurdly, this tactic still works — particularly, it seems, on Republican politicians.

  • http://newine.wordpress.com ultraguy

    Sadly, the ACoC item you cite stems from the pervasive, un-questioned idea that truth resides in how someone chooses to perceive what is said or done to him/her rather than according its essence (i.e., what it IS).

    It moves the locus and power for determining meaning (including critical words like ‘truth’, ‘sin’, ‘justice’, etc.) from the speaker (e.g., the Lord himself) and gives it to the hearer.

    If I choose to be offended by what you say, then, ipso facto it IS offensive (even more so if I’m in an ‘oppressed’ group and you’re in an ‘oppressive’ one; not at all if that’s reversed). If I choose to think of Jesus as a capricious racist it must be so (because Christianity is one of those ‘oppressive’ groups in the liberal narrative).

    It is the ultimate fragmentation grenade for singular truth not only because it promotes this kind of group-struggle narrative and pushes the sanctity of the individual into the background, but also because it dulls or negates the urgent desire to search out and discern THE truth. (If there are many and I can ‘roll my own’, why go to the trouble?)

    A good read that gets at the cultural context through which that ‘dogs’ passage would have been heard was suggested to me by one of your other reader/commenters: “Salvation is From The Jews” by Roy H. Schoeman (a Jewish convert to Catholicism). Hint: the context could not be more different from the one offered up so ignorantly by the ACoC.

  • http://vita-nostra-in-ecclesia.blogspot.com/ Bender B. Rodriguez

    [Jesus] seems to me to be acting here as a good teacher

    If you seek only a superficial understanding of God and scripture, you will find more than a few occasions where He seems to be a pretty mean guy. Another example is Jesus calling his mother “Woman,” which seems fairly disrespectful at first hearing. And, of course, there is the whole Abraham sacrifice Isaac episode, which, from a superficial perspective makes God out to be some kind of sadistic monster. But if you accept as a premise that God is all good, that is, if you start from a position of faith, then you can look for and find other deeper explanations that prove that God is, indeed, all good. In short, believe in order to understand.

    In this case, one possibility is that Jesus is being a jerk. But another, and better, possibility is that Jesus is trying to teach something here, even if it is done with some apparent harshness. The better possibility is that Jesus is, as you say, the master teacher, and is using something along the lines of a kind of “dialectic method,” seeming to take the contrary in order to draw out from the other the lesson to be learned. (just as many of the doctors and theologians of the Church have done)

    God did the same thing with Abraham. God did not need to test Abraham in order for God to know how faithful Abraham would be. God knows everything, so He already knew. But God did need to test Abraham in order for Abraham to know how faithful he was. Moreover, God did not and does not want human sacrifice. But Abraham lived in a time when human sacrifice was practiced. God could have simply told Abraham that he did not want human sacrifice, but would that have really sunk in, would Abraham really have appreciated the lesson as well? On the other hand, if God does what Abraham expected God to do, which was to act like all the other “gods” of the time and demand human sacrifice, then God can take Abraham right up to the brink so that it will really hit him, and then when God stops him, Abraham can really be thankful and understand that God is not like the other “gods,” but is ever merciful. (As well as providing the lesson that, we need not worry, God will provide the lamb for the sacrifice, i.e. Christ.)

    God — the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit — is a master teacher. And if we start from a premise or foundation of faith, that God is Love and God is Truth, then a bright light illuminates the scriptures and we can readily see a variety of teaching methods, including dialectic, contrarian methods. But He doesn’t force the teaching on us; He doesn’t force faith on us. If you refuse to believe, He will respect your will and walk away, shaking off the dust of unbelief. That too, is an act of love and truth.

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  • jakewashere

    Not the first time I’ve seen Taoism linked to Christianity.

  • http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com Hootsbuddy

    Sometime let’s talk about how tough it is to tolerate another person’s interpretation of Scripture, particularly when they’re dead wrong. While we’re at it, we might touch on the subject of conscientious objection and decide if matters of belief should be normative for everyone without exception.

    [Ah, Clever, Hoots. Well done. I always admire the ability to - with just a few sentences - create a specious straw man that says "thou hypocrite" and seems very black and white, but ignores all the subtle greys. :-)

    We can make a distinction, I hope, between "matters of belief being normative" when debating "different interpretations of scripture" which actively go against a bit of proclaimed and settled Christian doctrine (supported by its own scripture) which says that Christ was "a man like us in all ways but sin." To proclaim the Christian creed and then suggest that Christ was a racist would be declaring that he was, in fact, a sinner, and within a creed-professing "family" of Christianity - particularly on the understanding of the divinity of Christ himself - there either is a “normative” or there is something calling itself “Christian” that has actually, voluntarily devolved into a sort of relativistic Christianity-lite.

    No one is saying they should not be PERMITTED their relativism, or their dissent, but the question may be asked, “does this still fall under the heading of “Christianity” at all, or is it a sort of “quasi” Christianity – embracing what it likes and discarding or deconstructing what it does not. When the “interpretation of scripture” steps outside of an already fairly broad normative (“Christ is God and Man, like us in all ways but sin, and many sorts of worship, many rites of worship, many paths of prayer are already very well tolerated”) it is reasonable to suggest that the interpretation has moved outside of the creed which it professes and should perhaps identify itself differently – for the sake of transparency, honesty and self-actualization – and go in peace. There is no punishment, no jail time, no firey stakes forcing them to believe Jesus was not a racist, if that’s what they want to believe. They may, in fact, follow their conscience. They are free.

    That is quite different, I think – and I think you will agree – than a government deciding that on an unsettled and still very controversial issue there is only one way of looking at things, and dissent is not free to “identify itself differently and go in peace,” but will be punished in a variety of ways, from fines to loss of licenses to loss of livelihood.

    No matter how much you want to say “these two situations are the same,” they are not. Distinctions – the bane of both left and right, sometimes – are real and should be made.

    And remember what I wrote a long time ago. I think you disagreed with it, but I still think it’s right:

    The fascist is… whoever is trying to shut you up, shut you down, dis-employ you, silence you, cripple you or marginalize you for the crime of daring to fall out of step with the party and the conventional wisdom. Beware of them.

    Nothing in what I have described in the church question relates. They are still free. The political dissent, however, may turn out to meet the case fairly well. I’ve never been the sort of girl to cry “heretic!” and tell people they’re going to hell, and you know that – and I believe Christianity is big enough to withstand a ton of “different interpretations of scripture” with ease, but accuracy must ask if these folks want to or SHOULD call themselves by the “Christian” tag…Maybe they should call themselves, “The Church of Christ the Sinner” ;-) But I just can’t be comfortable with a government who will be less tolerant (on a more controversial issue) of a “different interpretation of life.”

    But I have a stomach bug today, so I’m tired. Have a good one – admin

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  • http://none Darrell

    If you start in the right place–that God is perfect and Jesus is God and man–you end up in the right place. Furthermore, his perfection sets the standard–defines–all those qualities humans find good and desirable–love, mercy, kindness, forgiveness, et.al. Any priest or minister that doesn’t start from this place as well needs to find another line of work. And if you accept this, if you come to a conclusion that doesn’t make sense according to those standards, you must have missed something. Or human beings somehow messed things up.

    The witness–whoever was there and passed along the story for future generations–missed something important. Jesus as God not only heard the woman’s words, but knew what was in her heart and on her mind.
    My take has been that she was consumed with her victim-hood–that Jew’s were God’s ‘pets’. That Jews treated her people like dogs. And that her people would never get a fair shake. She fully expected Jesus to reject her pleas, thereby reaffirming her assumptions–if he was really the Son of God to begin with. Instead he voiced what was in her heart–and made her construct arguments against her own false assumptions. All while treating her as an equal, mind you; talking to her and allowing her to talk to Him. If you are truly aware of these times you will see that he violated the prohibitions of talking to a woman, talking with a non-Jew, and treating her as an equal. She and the first people to hear these stories knew exactly what was going on. She would have also recognized her thoughts being thrown back to her. Little-by-little, her Faith is growing as they talk. And she gets something that she never thought possible–what she wanted. I always liked to think that her daughter had already been healed in the first second of the conversation.

    If we love God with all whole hearts, minds, souls, and strength we always give God the benefit of the doubt. Or should it be the benefit of ‘no doubt’ in God’s case?

  • culperjr.

    As an Episcopalian (hanging on by my fingernails, mostly out of spite), this sort of stupidity makes me cringe. Once again, a liberal Anglican makes the point that Jesus was OK, but would have been REALLY good if he had been more like…oh, I don’t know, a liberal Anglican. What crap.

    I believe that the church (any church, not just mine) went off the rails when it stopped punishing heretics. I don’t mean that we need to burn them alive, but they should absolutely be expelled from the denomination. Without a clear idea of what constitutes heresy, there can be no clear idea of what constitutes orthodoxy. That, I suppose, is the point of charlatans like these Anglicans.

    So fine, I get what they mean: “Jesus wasn’t as virtuous as we are. If he had been, he would have signed the Samarian woman up for universal health care, affirmed her choices in life and given her a cookie.” Holier-than-thou is one game, but holier-than-God is a different league entirely.

  • tolkein

    I recommend reading “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes” by Kenneth E. Bailey. He has a lovely chapter on this story. I reread the Gospel this evening as part of a Lent course, as we were reminded that Jesus often responded to situations by asking a question, not rushing to speak (we were read James 1:19 “Everyone must be slow to speak and slow to anger”) and it becomes clear that this story – selected by Matthew for a purpose- was a teaching story. The disciples were the prime audience, of course, but it seems the Anglicans in Canada haven’t been studying their Bible enough.

  • http://newine.wordpress.com ultraguy

    culperjr wrote: “they should absolutely be expelled from the denomination. Without a clear idea of what constitutes heresy, there can be no clear idea of what constitutes orthodoxy.”

    I have personally experienced, in two different ‘mainline’ denominations, a robust definition of what constitutes heresy and orthodoxy. Problem is, the polarity has been reversed. Their ‘orthodoxy’ is nearly indistinguishable from liberal secular humanism. Someone like Chesterton would see a world upside-down.

    What’s doubly sad is that the processes for expulsion from these upside-down (culture-conforming, non-believing) churches have stayed intact. Nobody talks about them much. They aren’t written down. No church board of elders will ever tell you you have to leave. The processes are much more subtle and informal than in the past; but they are at least as effective in that they involve social censure.

    When very lost, liberal pastor (both theologically and politically) told me, when I left his church, that “from the moment you walked in here I could tell you were a round peg in a square hole” (referring, among other things, to my taking scripture seriously), I knew I’d been expelled years ago. He just hadn’t had the gumption to tell me. Being expelled hurts for a bit. Learning that you were effectively expelled years before is just plain weird.

    In another church, I had a similar if less blatant experience once folks found out I hewed to theologically (and politically) conservative principles. Folks who’d been cozy-happy just didn’t say much to me anymore.

    The danger with the ACoC thing is not that some churches are adrift (implying that they could, of their own volition turn back). Rather it is that they have been entirely absorbed by a culture dead-set against the Jesus of the Bible.

  • http://hootsbuddy.blogspot.com Hootsbuddy

    Sorry about that. I hope it didn’t make your stomach bug worse. Sometimes it doesn’t look like it but we have more in common than not. I just like to play the gadfly.

  • http://none Darrell

    I should have added that if you wind up in the wrong place, with a God that’s anything but perfect,
    I just pray that you were alone in your journey.

  • tim maguire

    There is much wrong with the Canadian Anglican interpretation to this passage. It assumes that Jesus did not intend to help this woman until he publicly said he would help her (denies that he may have had other purposes for his statements). It also makes the common PC mistake of interpreting the actions of people from other times and places through the lense of their own thoughts and values (it’s much worse than that but I want to make different point).

    The much bigger issue is that they clearly deny the divinity of Christ. How, then, can they call themselves Christians? I don’t think we need to ruminate too carefully on the finer points of heresy and orthodoxy to conclude that someone who denies Jesus is the son of God (they aren’t calling God a racist, are they?) is clearly a heretic.

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