Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Teaching Jesus a Lesson

a fountain in the desert

It's vacation season, and I am reminded of one of my very favorite stories in the Christian scriptures, found in the Gospel of Matthew. It's a story about Jesus on vacation.

Jesus has been working hard. He and his entourage of disciples have been traveling throughout all of Israel. Jesus has become somewhat of a celebrity. Everyone wants to talk with him, learn from him, feel his healing touch. He is tired and needs to get away for some quality "down-time."  

So Jesus and his gang head out of town. In fact they leave the country and travel out to a seaside resort in the port cities of Tyre and Sidon (in nearby Lebanon.)  This is pagan country - a place where no one will bother them - certainly no one will recognize Jesus or make any demands of him.

In my imagination I picture Jesus incognito, wearing sun glasses, shorts and flip flops, sitting seaside, hanging out with the guys, sipping on a margarita - nice to get away from it all. 

But then something rather unexpected and disturbing happens. One of the local women has spotted Jesus. His reputation has even spread into foreign and pagan territory. Her daughter is gravely ill and she is convinced that this holy man from Israel can make her well again. 

So, the woman bursts into the midst of that gang lounging incognito on the beach, kneels before Jesus, and begs him to heal her daughter. Jesus and his disciples are not at all happy to be disturbed.

The disciples ignore her and try to push her away. Even Jesus who is normally so welcoming and embracing doesn't want to deal with her. He tells the pleading woman that his mission is only to his fellow citizens of Israel. This woman is a pagan and a foreigner. There is nothing he can do for her.

But she persists as she forces her way back into the circle and pleads again: "Even the dogs get scraps from the master's table."

And in that instant Jesus comes to a new awareness. His horizons are broadened.  His restricted love is transformed into an all-encompassing love as he realizes that no one stands outside the embrace of God. There are no foreigners, no outcasts, no one more deserving or less deserving. 

The woman's daughter is healed and Jesus praises the "great faith" of this woman.  This pagan, this foreigner, has taught Jesus a lesson. 

I really do love this story, and I refer to it often, particularly when I am told that Christians are the only ones who are on the path to the truth: Christians are the only ones God loves;  Christians are the only ones who will "go to heaven."  I quote from this story whenever I hear such claims, and I say  "I don't think Jesus would agree with you."

Jesus himself learned a great truth and was taught a life-changing lesson from someone who was an outcast, a foreigner outside his own tradition. I want to follow in Jesus' footsteps.

The story of Jesus on vacation brings my spirit great refreshment. It assures me of the wideness of God's all-encompassing embrace, and it teaches me that I, like Jesus, can also learn "truth" from many different people from widely diverse perspectives. 

There are many paths to the truth. 

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