As your typical Millennial, I am heavily engaged in social media, particularly Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of seeing all these posts about racism. One side condemns the alt-right white supremacists, the other side condemns Antifa, and yet another side condemns both, for they are both expressing evil in their words and actions. It’s all about taking sides and sharing videos from celebrities condemning one side or the other—or both—and getting angry at those who aren’t condemning one or both sides enough.
White supremacists chant, “Jews will not replace us,” and I wonder if the Christians among that group know that the man they claim to be their Saviour was a Jew. Antifa chants, “No fascists” while they are being fascist against the supposed “fascism” they’re opposing. Both sides make me sick. Not just because of their evil ideology, but also because of their heavy emphasis on race.
As an African-Puerto Rican-Caucasian male, I’ve experienced racism from both blacks and whites, but mostly blacks. When black people look at me, they expect me to talk and dress like I’m black. When Hispanics look at me, they expect me to speak Spanish. When white people look at me, they’re usually confused as to what I am but either expect me to act black or Hispanic. If I fail to meet their expectations, they disapprove of who I am (again, this is mostly from blacks). Both sides condemn the division apparent in our country, but both sides are to blame for the division. To them, if you support black people, you must hate white people. Or if you support white people, you must hate black people. For many, there can be no middle ground. Thus, ironically, racism has ensued as a result. My point is: I’ve experienced a lot of racism, and I have equal reasons to side with either Antifa or the white supremacists, but my Lord does not see race. Therefore, let us stop talking about race and begin treating one another as Jesus sees us.
The Canaanite Woman
Matthew 15:21-28, And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and begged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
The first thing I want to bring attention to is the fact that this woman was a Canaanite—a race of people the Israelites were called to annihilate because of their idol worship (Deuteronomy 20:17; note: for their idol worship, not for their race). In first century Rome at this time, she was among the races the Jews hated. By calling Jesus the Son of David, she is expressing her trust in the Messiah who brings peoples’ suffering to an end. Instead of hearing she’s in distress, the disciples are annoyed and tell Jesus to send her away. Jesus reminds the disciples He was sent on a mission for the lost people of Israel. But the woman kneels before Christ and begs for His mercy.
Comparing the woman to a dog is not a derogatory statement. The word κυνάριον (kunarion) is used here, which is not a wild dog but a household pet. “House dogs were as widespread and beloved at all social levels in antiquity as at any other time… While people sometimes threw food to stray dogs and then chased them away, it was taken for granted that people fed house dogs with table scraps” (Luz, 340). The contrast between children and dogs only makes sense in the context of a household pet. Therefore, in this proverbial word toward the woman, Jesus is not expressing contempt toward this Canaanite woman but rather expressing she is a Gentile who is not among the children (of God) and will not (yet) receive His bread (recall Jesus’ “I am the bread of life” statement in John 6:35). Children are fed first, then the dogs receive the crumbs. In other words, Jesus was telling this woman she is not among Israel, and will receive His bread at a later time.
But in her faith, the woman draws light to the fact that the dogs still receive something. She acknowledges Jesus has come to the Jews first and the Greek (Gentile) second (Paul affirms this in Romans 1:16), but she also acknowledges that as a Gentile—a person not originally part of God’s people—still receives Him. Jesus immediately recognises her faith and blesses her for it. Here, Jesus showed the disciples—and us—that faith is even for those who lie outside the race of Israel, even though they were to receive the message later (cf. Matthew 28:18-20).
The Good Samaritan
Before I continue, I want to emphasise that our racial differences are aspects to rejoice in. As an African-Puerto Rican man, I rejoice in my heritage that has created amazing food and music. And from my British heritage I rejoice in the literature it has produced as well as my ancestors who were clergymen as far back as the 1000s. As finite creatures, we can certainly take joy in our racial differences and the beauty each of our historical cultures share. But race isn’t everything, as we often make it out to be.
The parable of the Good Samaritan is arguably Jesus’ most famous parable (Luke 10:25-37). In some places, there is even a “Good Samaritan” law that says if you ignore a person who is injured and in need and they die, you could be prosecuted. It also protects the good Samaritan when they attempt to save someone’s life within their trained means and if she fails, she will not be prosecuted. Yet we place too much emphasis on us in this parable. The emphasis on us doing good to our neighbour is certainly there, but there’s a lot more to it.
To fathom the full significance of this parable, we first need to understand who the Samaritans were. The Samaritans occupied the country formerly known as Ephraim and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The capital of Ephraim was Samaria. When the ten tribes of Israel were gathered and sent into captivity in Assyria, “the king of Assyria brought people from Babylon, Cuthah, Avva, Hamath, and Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the people of Israel” (2 Kings 17:24). These Samaritan foreigners began to intermarry with the Israelites who were still in Samaria. Originally, these Samaritans worshipped the idols of their own nations, and having intermarried with Israelites they ended up creating a religion that was a mixture of Judaism and their pagan idolatry (2 Kings 17:26-28).
Fast forwarding to first century Rome, the Jews despised the Samaritans and were racist toward them because of their religion that was bastardised out of Judaism. After Cyrus’ edict when he allowed the Israelites to return to their homeland post-Babylonian captivity, the Jews began rebuilding the Temple and the Samaritans made arduous efforts to stop them (Nehemiah 6:1-14). The Samaritans then built a temple for themselves on Mount Gerizim. In addition to this, those whom the Jews excommunicated found safety for themselves in Samaria—the Samaritans welcomed offenders of the Jewish law. On top of this, the Samaritans accepted the Torah, but they rejected the writings of the Prophets. Hopefully you can see why the Jews hated the Samaritans so much. Not only had the Samaritans tainted Judaism, but to the Jews, they were also in open defiance against YHWH.
Enter the parable of the Good Samaritan. In the parable, a man is half dead, and both a priest and a Levite ignore him—two groups of people thought honourable and holy in Jewish eyes. It was not a priest or a Levite who helped the man, but a Samaritan—that vile, inferior, decadent race of people who tainted Judaism. Yet the lawyer (an expert in the Jewish law) was forced to admit the Samaritan was a neighbour to this man.
This Samaritan man is a lot like Jesus—a social outcast, rejected by His own people. Yet Christ became neighbour for us all not only by becoming a man, but also by tending our wounds and paying the price for our wounds (compare vv. 33-35). As the one who became our neighbour, He thus says, “You go, and do likewise” (v. 37). Just as Christ was neighbourly to us all by loving us regardless of race, so we are to love one another regardless of race.
Now the error of Antifa and the white supremacists come to light. There is no love in their actions; there is no love in either of their causes. Instead of treating each other as creatures created in God’s image and God’s dearly beloved people, they are continually judging and treating each other according to race. Earlier, I said Jesus doesn’t see race. Let me clarify: He does see race insofar as how we treat one another in our unique cultural contexts, but He does not see race in regards to salvation and how we ought to love one another. The sooner we stop viewing each other in these divisive categories we create, the sooner we’ll begin seeing each other and treating one another as creatures dearly beloved by God—loved so much that He became a man, suffered on our behalf, took our sins upon Him on the cross, and died for us.
Let’s stop talking about race. Let us, rather, begin talking to one another and treating one another as people whom God died for and desires to know Him. We are all creatures deserving of His wrath no matter the race we belong to, but we are also all creatures whom God died for on the cross—to the Jew first, and now to us. We are all Gentiles who ought kneel before the cross and praise Him in tears of gratitude for His lovingkindness to show such boundless mercy to us poor, miserable, Gentile sinners. Let us, therefore, go out and love one another as Christ has loved us—comforting one another, serving one another, and loving one another even unto death. Amen.
Luz, Ulrich, translated by James E. Crouch, edited by Helmut Koester. A Commentary on Matthew 8-20. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2001.