It's a sleepless night in early December. I'm up--fully awake--at 11:00 PM contemplating the humanness of Jesus the Messiah. Okay, writing 11:00 PM doesn't seem that late, but I've been averaging a 9:00 PM bedtime the last few weeks. Anyway, I recently delved into the life of Jesus by reading a Bruce Chilton book titled Rabbi Jesus. Before that, I had explored the Mosaic Law to find evidence of grace, generosity and kindness toward aliens/foreigners/Gentiles there. To my surprise, these concepts were abundantly evident throughout the Law, so it is no surprise at all that Jesus expounded on them. The Old Testament states time and again that God's unmerited favor toward Israel was cause for humility, not pride, and that His grace was the foundation for faith (see evidence of the latter in Hebrews 11). The Law taught that Israel was to accept and even care for foreigners and aliens. It also taught that generosity was part of God's plan to bless the nations through them.
Considering all this makes it easy to swallow Jesus teaching these same principles to first century Jews. Interestingly, though, Jesus did not always live up to these divinely-inpsired ideals. I keep thinking about his ungracious response to the Syro-Phoenecian woman in Mark 7:24 (also in Matthew 15)...the Living Bible even calls her "a despised Gentile," while other translations simply say Greek. Either way, where was the compassion and grace toward this woman in need who Jesus compares to a dog?
Tonight was the first time I ever considered this episode as a glimpse into Jesus' own humanness. Now, I realize that it is possible that the prejudice of the gospel writer may have influenced his account of this transaction, but I also acknowledge the possibility that Jesus may have been acting in accord with his upbringing in that environment. If Galilean Jews really did look down their noses at these "despised Gentiles" and think of them as worthless--rather lowly--dogs, then I can totally relate to Jesus' very human reaction. Chilton even emphasizes the fact that the woman's response, her persistence clothed in humility, evokes a compassionate change of heart in the human Messiah. He heals her daughter. His gifts were not held exclusively for the Jew, but were available for the "despised Gentile" even when Jesus' humanness tried to interfere.
This New Testament story encourages me to act more graciously and generously toward those who maybe don't deserve it, at least in man's eyes. May God override my arrogance, stubborness, prejudice and hard-headedness when I'm met with an opportunity to bless others.