Sunday 16 February 2014

Did Jesus Use a Racist Trope?

Older readers may recall my Was Jesus Judgemental? post from a few years back. A discussion on a similar theme is taking place in the Ship of Fools Forums, Jesus had to transcend his culture too? I thought it would be appropriate to re-post one of my responses to it here. It also allows me to mention the Beatles for the first time on this blog and thus eliminate a glaring ommision-


In Luke, from the very start, Jesus is proclaimed, by Simeon, in the hearing of Mary and Joseph who marvel at it, that this child will be "a light to lighten the Gentiles and the glory of his people Israel"

This is an echo of Isaiah

6 I the Lord have called thee in justice, and taken thee by the hand, and preserved thee. And I have given thee for a covenant of the people, for a light of the Gentiles:

Isaiah 42 

So clearly the people of Israel were expecting their Messiah to have such a role but not in the same way that we as Christians might interpret it. If the Messiah was one who restored the glories of the Davidic kingdom and was endowed with the wisdom of a Solomon then he could be thought of as a light to the Gentiles in the sense of demonstrating that the God of Israel was the one true God and that the children of Israel had a unique covenant relationship with Him. So the Gentiles would be enrolled as worshippers of the Lord but in a subsidiary and supplicant position Vis-à-vis the Israelites.

The point at which Jesus grew in wisdom to grasp beyond that expectation and see that His mission involved incorporating the Gentiles into a New Israel is a matter of speculation. He did say that Salvation is of the Jews (Jn 4:22) and that certainly would have been the expectation not only of His disciples but also of pretty much all the Jews to whom He preached. Had He begun His mission by proposing for belief all that we who know the end of it understand His project to have been He would have got no following at all. His mission had to unfold its purposes in a progressive manner in order for Him to build up a devoted following who could carry that mission on after the Easter events.

In some ways it is rather like the trajectory of Beatles albums. Fans who followed the band all the way from the first pop albums through to Abbey Road went on a remarkable musical journey who's end was very different from the beginning and could not be foreseen but which was rooted in the complex personalities of the creative songwriters of the band. Of course the Beatles had no idea at the beginning what the end would be and to some extent Jesus, who is definitely still bigger than the Beatles, did.
I incline to the believe that, like the Cana episode, our Lord had clearly decided to follow a particular path, in the one case the public performance of miracles and in the other the extending of His mission to the Gentiles. What He was undecided about was when to do so. He needed to encounter an event that would precipitate the change of direction, to act as a catalyst. In one instance it was His inability to refuse a request from His mother and in another it was His inability to resist an appeal to His compassion. Something similar happened when He took His disciples for a quiet retreat and ended up healing, teaching and feeding thousands of others instead. It might be useful to bear that episode in mind when considering this one of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Mark 6:31-44 

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