Second, this passage refers to blindness pejoratively too. Equating a disability like blindness with being inferior, sinful, or adversarial is harmful to people who live with disabilities every day. Again, today we can do better when we tell the Jesus story.
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(Read this series from its beginning here.)
Later in this week’s reading, we encounter a story of a woman whom Matthew refers to as “Canaanite” and Mark calls “Syrophoenician” (Mark 7:26). When Matthew refers to her as a Canaanite, his listeners would have recalled the region’s ancient Indigenous populations within their own cultural stories and folklores of exodus, migration and settlement there.
The early Jesus movement was not monolithic on the underlying message of this passage. Some members of the early Jesus movement felt their purpose was more in-house: they believed they were to be about winning fellow Jews to follow the Jewish Jesus. Many of these members stayed in Judea, specifically Jerusalem, and recognized the apostleship of Peter and James (see Luke and Acts). Others in the early Jesus community believed they were called to win those outside of the Jewish community to become followers of Jesus. Paul and the Matthean community in Galilee held this view (compare the endings of Matthew’s gospel and Luke’s). In Luke’s gospel, all the disciples remain in Jerusalem and grow the Jesus movement among the Jewish people from there. But in Matthew’s gospel, all the disciples return to Galilee and grow the Jesus movement from there, embracing even those who were not Jews.
The story of the Canaanite woman supports the Matthean community’s view that Jesus teachings should be shared beyond the boundaries of the Jewish community.
What I love about this story is that we get a picture of a very human Jesus. He models being open to listening to those our theologies, interpretations, or views harm and being willing to grow and change. When we discover that something in our theology or our interpretations is harmful, this Jesus tells us it’s okay to learn and change. It’s okay to admit that once you held a harmful position, you now know more than you knew then, and your mind has changed.
This story forces us to embrace an evolving Jesus, not a fixed one. As the gospel of Luke says, “The child [Jesus] grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40).
When Jesus became an adult, did this growing and learning in wisdom stop? Did he just know everything as an adult? It may appeal to some to view Jesus this way, but it doesn’t align with our own experiences or how much we keep learning, evolving, and growing as adults.
Consider this passage in the New Testament book of Hebrews: “Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered.” (Hebrews 5.8)
Jesus learned obedience. And he learned it through those things he suffered. This sounds a lot like the way all of us grow and learn: through experience and the hard way. It’s a picture of a very human Jesus who, when his understanding broadened, embraced change to become even more a source of healing and life to those he came in contact with.
Again, Matthew’s gospel refers to this woman as a Canaanite woman. Let’s consider her, next.
(Read Part 3)