Prejudice

11th Sunday after Pentecost
August 20, 2017

Reverend Andrea Thomas and the Venerable Ross Hammond

Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:21-28

In a world that seems to have lost its way, it would seem that for Christians the one true source of peace and certainty would be the stories of Jesus found in the Gospels.

But today, that is not what we find – not what I would expect from Jesus. Pretty shocking, actually. Did you catch Jesus’ attitude and language in his encounter with the Canaanite woman? She is asking deliverance for her child, yet he calls her a dog! – a name that his fellow Jews gave to gentile pagans, a way of dismissing them, of putting them in their place. It was common language of the day.

We’re told that Jesus doesn’t answer her cries – he ignores her. When he does focus on her, he says that his mission is only to the people of Israel. And then he tells her that the food for the children should not be thrown to the dogs. Not the barking kind, but the ‘not-us’ kind, the derogatory term for any non-Israelite.

Where is the loving, compassionate Jesus in this story? Not to be found. The respected teacher has come face to face with his prejudices. The woman from Canna teaches him that he needs to broaden his ministry of hospitality to those outside the house of Israel.

And here we have a mirror for us in our own times.

  • Easily made, and easily reinforced stereotypes about ourselves and others.
  • The comfortable space that is white privilege, that must be challenged and recognized for what it is.
    • Do not assume that this is a problem for somewhere else, we have our own versions of prejudice and racism
  • The reality of the ‘dog’s life’ that most of us know nothing about.

In today’s Gospel we find a peculiar kind of hope. The Saviour of the World, Jesus, had to learn to step outside of his comfort zone and move toward a more inclusive stance. He needed to stop thinking about the generosity of his crumbs and begin making a humble invitation to the whole meal. And if he had to learn, then it is entirely okay for me to have to learn that as well, and if I am following Jesus then I will take that seriously.

If all of us who claim the name of Christ were to step outside our comfort zone and show hospitality to those different from us, maybe we wouldn’t be in the world predicament we are now.

Having made that simplistic, sweeping statement I need to quickly follow with an acknowledgement that it’s not that simple. History and experience, societal norms and politics all play a role in our prejudices, and will play a role in how we move forward.

The first step along the path to hope and community is humble reflection about our own reality and our willingness to be changed.

But that’s not me! I’m not prejudiced, I’m not a racist! Maybe the change for me is not so much in attitude (though don’t slide away from that challenge too quickly), maybe it’s more about watching the details:

  • Language (old slang – it still means something)
  • Reframing (Ryan and Todd: Japanese friend? No, my friend with the straight hair.)
  • Other types of differences / prejudices
    • Gender, including the spectrum of gender expression and identity – (me gay, tall and male; Rev Andrea straight, short and female – guess who gets the most pushback about the validity of their ministry?)
    • Mental health – more critical of those with mental health issues than those with physical health issues
    • Addictions – Opioid Crisis. Isolation is a key factor which leads to chaos for individual, families and community. (Donna Rourke, our Youth ministries director, is working with other faith communities on a grace-filled response to this challenge.)

In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., worked on a manuscript that was eventually published under the title, “Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?” His basic thesis was that to address the challenges facing the human race we need to pool our resources and learn to work together. The option is chaos.

If that is the case, then we need to choose community – but you can’t build community and exclude whole groups of others at the same time.

Allowing our easy assumptions to be challenged and changed – as Jesus did – leads us to hope and to community.

In closing, let us remember the words of today’s collect:

Almighty God,
you have broken the tyranny of sin
and sent into our hearts the Spirit of your son.
Give us grace to dedicate our freedom to your service,
that all people may know the glorious liberty
of the children of God;
through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

Amen.

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