Banishing Bigotry With Christ
“They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well.’ ”
She lived in a rich, coastal, thriving, busy, port city. But she was a pagan and desperate for help.
Her little daughter, the demon-possessed child of this Syrophoenician Bible woman, needed a miraculous healing. Not even the healing temple in nearby Sidon, built in honor of a local god, had provided the true healing this woman sought for her daughter.
Then came Jesus (vs. 24).
He came with confidence, awareness, and hope into the noisy, smelly, maritime prosperity of Tyre—home of the Mediterranean’s most skilled master seamen. The city was a manufacturing hub for Tyrian purple. The stunningly beautiful and highly coveted dye yielded great wealth for the pagan woman’s region. Spiritually, however, she was destitute.
So now came Jesus.
Into her world, and into her heart, he stepped into her desperation with a love she insisted could be hers.
It’s a singularly amazing story. Even though the woman’s family were Canaanite Gentiles, seen as no more than “puppy dogs” by God’s chosen children, the woman so moved the heart of Jesus with her faith that he purposefully healed her daughter with his all-inclusive grace. In so doing, he excoriated prejudice, teaching his disciples his salvation was meant for all the world.
As we read the story now, it seems visionary and timely.
In a season of #BlackLivesMatter, with its new attention on old symbols of ethnic pain, Jesus’ example reframes discrimination as a short-sighted and closed-hearted sin.
With his uncompromising lesson against bigotry fresh in our hearts, Jesus moves on to Galilee, encountering a deaf and mute man whom he heals, oddly, by putting his fingers in the man’s ears and placing his spittle on the man’s tongue.
Be opened, he said to the man. “And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly” (vs. 35).
Shall we, likewise, open our hearts—granting people with all manner of afflictions, backgrounds, and views the opportunity to speak to us plainly?
It can be tough work. Yet such heart-opening is happening in metro St. Louis where, one year after the shooting death in Ferguson of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown, the Post-Dispatch asked residents what they had learned. For most, they learned to be aware of each other.
To be “more intentional,” said one Florissant resident, “to listen and understand the perspectives of African American friends and neighbors.”
Added this man: “I’ve been more vocal in my church about the need for people like me in the majority white culture to stand up for the rights of minorities.”
God knows what all believers might hear if we remember to love with such intention.
I dare to imagine a church that will love all people. Perplexed disciples. Hurting outsiders. People whose voices aren’t heard.
Such love is beyond our own capacity. So teach us, Lord, to love. Then, help us to put feet on this prayer. So courageous a request is one only he can answer.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Is bigotry alive in your heart? What active things can you do to confront your bigotry? Can you imagine a church that loves everyone? What have you done to heal divides in your church and family?
PRAYER: I have sinned, O Lord, through a bigoted attitude and a closed heart. Open my eyes to see your way. Then inspire me to follow by faith your path to your inclusive kingdom. Amen.
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”