Benediction Online

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Was Jesus Racist?

In this morning’s gospel reading we hear a conversation which has to leave us asking “was Jesus racist?” He had taken a side trip into modern day Lebanon, perhaps to get a break from the constant demands of his ministry. But even on vacation he couldn’t get completely away; a local woman came to see him asking for help for her daughter. Yet Jesus doesn’t say yes right away. He actually tries to dismiss her. Why? Not because it’s his week off, not because he’s tired or it’s the Sabbath, but because she’s not a Jew.

Is that racist or is that racist?

If the story stopped there we’d be in deep trouble. But it doesn’t. The Syro-Phoenician woman – we don’t know her name, only her nationality - argues back. "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." And Jesus gets it. Jesus is changed. He was a man of his culture who had been brought up to believe that the Jewish people were God’s people, and that’s how he saw his ministry. This is quite an extraordinary story, especially when we read it with John’s gospel in the back of our minds. John portrays Jesus as knowing everything from the beginning of his ministry. But Mark has a different view. This is a moment of transformation for Jesus. Suddenly he gets it. It’s not just about the Jews anymore. And he is changed.

Today we are pausing, together with churches around the country to reflect on our own racism. Most of us in this church are white, most of us in Los Osos are white. We are brought up as people of privilege, the dominant culture in this area. Yet we live increasingly in a multi-colored world where people have a huge variety of different heritages. And we don’t privilege all of them in the same way. Historically in this country people of African descent have been used as slaves and have held lower positions in society. Today, most of our fieldworkers and many of our cleaning and maintenance staff are Latino or Filipino. We rely on their labor for our food and our comfort. Yet we pay them very little so that we can have cheap food and cheap convenience, and we rarely think about what they and their families need to flourish.

But the second reading we heard, the one from James, challenges us to think again about our cultural tendency to treat people of different social status differently. If we treat people who have smart clothes, big cars and good educations with more care and deference than we do people who are homeless or those who are living on the edge financially then we are judging with, James says, “evil thoughts”.  I like to think that we have a broad range of people in this congregation; people of differing economic status, differing backgrounds and differing experience. It gives us an opportunity to practice what James is saying. It gives those of us who have been blessed with education and wealth the opportunity to leave our privilege behind and welcome others as equal children of God.

Yet we really don’t have much of a racial mix. I reckon we have 3% Latino, and 3% Asian. Many of that 6% are not among our regular Sunday attenders. Why not? Why don’t we reflect the ethnic makeup of our neighborhood which is 14% Latino and 5% Asian? Probably because they wouldn’t feel comfortable here or because they don’t think the church is relevant to them – the same reason we don’t have more young adults. If we are to be truly inclusive then we will need to change some of the ways we do things. Radical hospitality means more than just saying, “y’all come”. It means being willing to give voice and power to those who are often marginalized and being willing to do things differently in order to fully embrace them.

I am sure that, like me, you have been saddened by the recent events in Ferguson, in Charleston, and other places where black people have been killed, and by retaliation killings in places like New York and Houston. It has become very apparent that our society continues to view those who have a different skin color as people who can be treated with less respect, and this leads to violence and tragic loss of life. I am saddened by the remarks of the Prime Minister of Hungary who said “we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country,” and even more ashamed of Donald Trump’s statements that people from Mexico are bringing drugs and crime and “some of them are rapists,” and “likewise tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border.”[1] 

People believe this stuff.

Racism is alive and well in America. Racism is alive and well across the planet, and Los Osos is no exception. Today we are asked to repent for our part in maintaining the myth that some of us are better than others and that skin color or religion or sexual orientation or disability or whatever difference there might be, is an excuse for us to marginalize and scapegoat certain people. Today we are asked to see things differently. Like Jesus, we are asked to realize that God’s love is freely available to ALL regardless of where they were born or what they have done or what they believe or the way they dress.

Our baptismal vows call us to “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself,” and to “strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.” In order to live into our vows we cannot stand by and watch while our society systematically stigmatizes those who are black or those whose English is not so good.

It is our duty as citizens of this country to make our voices heard; to stand for fair voting laws which empower every citizen to participate in our civic life; to call for prison reform; to call for resources to be made available to help those who are stuck in poverty and in the cycle of deprivation to find new ways of living. Pope Francis has said, “We cannot presume to heal our relationship with nature and the environment without healing all fundamental human relationships.”[2] We cannot stand idly by while racism is supported, and our politicians can make points by denigrating those whom God sees as lovely.

It is our calling to change our own hearts and the hearts of those around us by treating everyone we meet as the beloved children of God that they really are, and by going out of our way to make connections with those whom we are not naturally drawn to, or those whose skin color, ideas, or way of life are very different from our own. If we are really honest with ourselves, each one of us carries within us some degree of prejudice. It may not be obvious, but we are culturally conditioned to be drawn to those who are like us and prejudiced against those who are not.

The gospel message is that there is no-one who is not like us. There is no-one who is not beloved of God. In his meeting with the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus got it. Jesus was changed. May we also be changed to fully live out the truth of God’s unconditional love.


[2] Laudato Si , 119


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