Text: Isaiah 56:1,6-8; Matthew 15:21-28
Both the Old Testament and the New Testament include passages about foreigners, people who are of a different nationality than the Jews, yet the lesson is one of sameness, not difference.
Isaiah 56:6-8 declares that all foreigners who serve God and hold fast to his covenant will be treated just the same as His chosen people, they will be brought to His holy mountain and His house of prayer, their offerings will be accepted. His house “will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This Old Testament lesson is clear – God does not distinguish among people because of their race or nationality, but instead by their thoughts and deeds.
Matthew 15:21-28 contains the story of the Canaanite woman who argues with Jesus. Although she is a foreigner, not a Jew, she recognizes Jesus’ true nature and comes to him seeking healing for her daughter. He implies that he was sent only to help Jews, but she persists. He likens her to a dog, saying it is not right to take food from children (Jews) to feed to a dog (foreigner). But she argues, pointing out that even dogs eat crumbs from their master’s table. Jesus recognizes her strong faith, and heals her daughter. This New Testament lesson is similar to the Old Testament lesson – God does not distinguish between people because of their race or nationality, but instead by their faith.
There are, in fact, many, many other passages in both testaments that refer to differences in race or nationality. If God does not care about the distinction, why would there be so many passages in the Bible that refer to the differences? To answer that question, we must look back at the social, political, and military contexts of the Jewish people when these passages were written. They had been captured, enslaved, defeated, exiled, and colonized, with occasional moments of victory and freedom. Of course they had reason to think of themselves as separate and distinct. They had reason to fear other nations and races, and they also had reason to feel some pride about being somehow special, about being God’s chosen people.
Even today, these two emotions, fear and pride, are at the root of many conflicts and divisions among groups of people. We have a natural human tendency to fear those whom we perceive to be different, we are afraid of the unknown, we are afraid that those differences will somehow change our lives for the worse. At the same time, we have a natural human tendency to think of ourselves as superior to those who are different, that we somehow deserve special treatment.
We can see these emotions very clearly in the ways we think and act toward those living with HIV and AIDS. We fear that somehow we may also become sick. We feel pride that we have lived correctly and are not sick. We are all too ready to render judgment on those who are already sick.
Yet the message of our Lord Jesus Christ is that these natural tendencies are sinful, that we must reject these emotions when we feel them. We have no reason to feel fear – his saving grace is sufficient. And we have no justification to feel pride – rather we are asked to be humble, to treat others as better than ourselves. We are told to replace fear and pride with love and compassion.
When we have learned this lesson, when we have learned to control our fear and pride, then we will finally be able to treat all of God’s children with dignity and respect, including those living with HIV and AIDS.
To think about: Where does our fear or our pride still have an influence in our response to “the other”, including strangers and people living with HIV?