A week ago, in our church’s antiracism discussion group, someone stated that xenophobia is the norm, and our goal is to challenge it. That comment really caught my attention and I decided to ponder it and bring you along on the journey.
We’re discussing a book that traces the history of xenophobia in America, and it’s been quite enlightening. Before the US was even a country, there was virulent, violent anti-German sentiment. In the decades that followed, other nationalities got “their turn,” including the Irish, the Chinese, the Japanese, Mexicans…the list can seem endless. And then there are the Blacks, who have never gotten a break; it’s always “their turn.”
A week ago, the gospel reading fit in well with our discussion. In the story, a Canaanite woman comes up to Jesus and asks for healing for her daughter. Jesus first ignores her, then refuses, saying he is called to save “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she perseveres, and eventually he expresses amazement at the greatness of her faith. Then he tells her that her wish has been granted, and her daughter is healed.
What are we to make of this story? Does Jesus exhibit xenophobia, or is it just that he believes he’s only called to minister to “his” people? This story makes Jesus look bad, so why was it included in the Bible?
It seems to me that the gospels are not marketing materials, which would show off only the best and brightest parts of this new faith called Christianity. Instead, they are down-to-earth teaching tools. The gospels are full of stories of people not at their best. The disciples don’t get what Jesus is saying, over and over. Jesus learns and grows throughout the course of his ministry. We see his frustration, his anger, and his incredible patience with his very human followers.
As his very human followers, we also sometimes don’t get it. The good news is that Christ is incredibly patient with us. When we exhibit xenophobia, we get stories like this gospel, to remind us that everyone is entitled to receive God’s healing power. The spread of Christianity around the world, despite its repeated failings (crusades, inquisitions, massacres, xenophobia), is proof that the underlying message is sound. We are all God’s children, and we are all in need of God’s love, grace, and forgiveness for our shortcomings.
So, is xenophobia the norm? Perhaps. But another, even stronger, norm is love. It is that love which can break through our xenophobic tendencies, one human relationship at a time.
When in your life have you exhibited xenophobia? When have others directed it against you? How can you learn from what the gospels have to teach us about everyone needing, and receiving, God’s healing power?