New Testament Anti-Racism: Bitches and Hood Rats in the Kingdom of God

Everybody’s a little bit racist, or so the song goes. But what about Jesus? The more time I spend with Matthew 15 (and I’ve been spending a lot of time with it), the more clearly it becomes a racially-motivated exchange. It’s one of the problem passages of the New Testament where Jesus comes out looking racist. It’s the story of the Syro-Phonecian woman who needs a miracle. To call her Syro-Phonecian is putting it nicely; Mark puts it nicely in his parallel version (7:24-30).  But Matthew calls her a Canaanite woman, a derogatory, outdated term that recalls a long history of racial tension between Jews and Canaanites. Where Mark tries to de-escalate the situation, Matthew reports that sparks were flying and tensions were high.

Jesus was only in Tyre and Sidon–a non-Jewish territory–because he’d gotten into a kerfuffle with the Pharisees and was laying low. Jesus left his rural Jewish homeland to spend a couple weeks hiding out with the Gentiles (read: pagans and hedonists). It’s not that Jesus and the disciples want to be around the Gentiles, it’s more that they don’t want to put their lives at risk by standing too close to an angry Pharisee. Continue reading

Love or Money?

You know that song? Zacchaeus was a wee little man, a wee little man was he. I don’t like it. It misses the point of the story. Zacchaeus’ defining factor was not his height. Like Napoleon: no one cares about his height, but for the irony that he is Napoleon. No one would give two sycamores how tall Zacchaeus was, if not that he was rich, too.

Zacchaeus  was rich. And he didn’t have many friends, because no one noticed that he was in the tree. If they did notice, they just pointed and laughed with their neighbors. No one said, “stand next to me and I’ll tell you what Jesus looks like.”

Zacchaeus went up the tree because “he was trying to see who Jesus was.” But instead, Jesus saw him. Jesus saw him not as a benefactor or a patron. Jesus didn’t say “I’m going to your house because I know you’ve got high thread count sheets and I could use a good night’s sleep.” Jesus did the thing he always did: he looked for the people on the margins and pulled them to the center. It just so happened, in this town, the one in the margins was the wealthy tax collector. Continue reading