Is it racist to celebrate a Navajo man who preached the religion of the oppressors to his people?
I’m preaching this week on Jesus’ words to the Syrophonecians woman. I remember John Suk’s sermon/blog post in this. http://faithisntwhatyouthink.blogspot.com/2014/01/jesus-racial-slur-and-bible.html
I think this text opens up the interesting philosophical dilemma of combinatorial explosiveness, or the one and the many. So often the frame you bring to a situation determines its outcome. This can’t be helped because the world is simply too complex for our little brains to manage so we have built into us filters that make the world manageable. These filters, however, are not neutral. We pre-judge the world in order to see the world and a lot goes into that.
The difficulty we have is that there are so many things going on at once but action often requires us to do something and that thing we must do limits us and when other frames are applied to that situation one thing can look blessed and worthy of celebration but also cursed and sinful, usually dependent upon the frame applied. Political strategists will note that the big rush is almost always to “frame” an issue because the frame, not the “facts” usually determine the issue in terms of the propagandist agenda that framers employ or are employed by.
Jesus’ contact with this woman is actually a masterful example of this issue. There are many things illuminated by this story.
1. There is more “unclean spirit” in the world than Jesus can address in one moment in the straightforward way we normally think about things. If Jesus decided to point out every instance of “missing the mark” he couldn’t leave one village. Even Jesus got tired (human nature) which prompted what our frame might call a vacation of sorts. Jesus in his humanity embraces our frame problem and takes it on. He becomes limited and particular.
2. Jesus needs to express his mission boldly and clearly which he does with his words. This boldness (which we see as a racist slur, our frame) actually prompts something in the woman, that moment of desperate insight that she likely would not have had before. Her encounter with Jesus is created by the combination of the confrontation with one frame Jesus is employing (mission to only Israel) and her love for her daughter in desperate need. Jesus’ response elicits the faith the woman needed, likely a faith that only before was implicit.
3. Jesus also expresses the universal nature of his mission (God has no frame problem. God is the ancient answer to the frame problem). He does this by healing the woman’s daughter.
There’s more to be had, thanks to frames. But maybe this is enough for now. pvk