I just listened to a pastor, named Jarrod McKenna, say some things that hit me like a ton of bricks. Jarrod is from Australia, where he cares for refugees and is a justice activist. I don’t know enough about him to know whether he and I would see eye to eye on everything, but on this, I agree. What follows is a mixture of his thoughts and mine, which followed after hearing what he said.
He was teaching out of the gospels – the story of the Canaanite woman whose daughter was demon-possessed.
Here’s the story (please note, this falls into the progression of Matthew’s gospel, right after he recounts Jesus telling the disciples that things originating from outside of us cannot defile us – we are defiled by our own evil thoughts, what’s inside us):
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. Matthew 15:21-28 ESV
Ever wonder why she’s called a Canaanite? Weren’t they supposed to have been totally eliminated, as a people group, way back when? When Mark tells the story, he calls her Syrophoenician, or Greek.
Perhaps her ethnicity is a major part of Matthew’s telling of this story. Perhaps the way Jesus treats her, despite (or because of) her ethnicity, is paramount.
“Canaanite,” took the Jewish mind back to the story in Deuteronomy where they were instructed not to have anything whatsoever to do with Canaanites. Matthew is making much of the fact that this woman is a descendant of the despised enemies of Israel. Jesus, in effect, says, “Hey guys, I came for them, too. I didn’t just come to Israel, I came for the outsiders. I came for the unclean. I came for your enemies.”
In passing Jarrod said that the Jews, specifically the disciples, were all about “making Israel great again.”
Hello. That’s the part that got my attention and made me think.
Making Israel great was what they were always looking for. It’s partly why Jesus was crucified – everyone expected a king, a warrior, not a servant. Not a teacher. Not a humble, compassionate man claiming to be the Son of God, who went around doing good and forgiving sin.
That’s why the disciples so easily dismissed all the distractions that came their way – the Canaanite woman, the Samaritan woman, the children, hungry crowds. They were all just hindrances to an agenda. Jesus gave them power to heal people, but they were mostly concerned with knowing when Jesus’ kingdom was coming and which of them would be his right (and left) hand man.
How do we miss it?
The message He sent time and time again was that our prejudices and hatred and differences and discomforts must be set aside to make room for love.
To paraphrase Jarrod all lives do matter, but all lives don’t matter until the “least” life matters.
Until the outcast matters. Until the “unclean” matters. Until the unborn matters. Until the loud, obnoxious kids matter. Until the disabled matter. Until black, Hispanic, Asian, white and gay lives all matter. Until people of the other political party matter.
When the lives of people you least care for, or are most different from, matter, then all lives matter.
That’s the message of the cross. Even when you were at your worst, Christ died for you. Your life mattered. We are called to follow Him, to take up our cross and embody reconciliation. We need to resist the temptation to divide, to be angry, to retaliate, to defend ourselves.
I think Jesus might be more interested in making our Love great again, than making our country great again.