From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
You've never been tired, right? You’ve never lost your patience, have you? You’ve never said something you immediately regretted as soon as it left your lips? You’ve not reached the depths of your limit for human interaction only to hear the dreaded knock at the door, have you? Nah, those things never happened to Jesus either. He definitely never got tired, told people off, lost his patience, wanted to slink away for a long nap. Nope not God! Unless, well, unless Jesus was actually human...like- needed a nap kind of human. Could Jesus have been God’s son and still done something entirely human, like lose his patience? Good question, right?
There are lots of Christians who aren’t too comfortable with Jesus' humanity. Maybe it even rubs you the wrong way, hearing me say your redeemer needed a nap. I get it, it’s weird to think of Jesus snapping from time to time. But here’s the alternative- Jesus just pretends to be human, right? He could have, going around wowwing everyone with these awesome miracles, looking people in the eyes and saying, “oh I get it, I know what it’s like to be human” when really he never knows pain or frustration or loses his patience at all. But that wouldn’t have worked. You and I know people who pretend to be what they’re not just aren’t believable in the end. I can connect with Jesus if I can trust that he gets how hard it is to be human at times. In fact, I’m not sure I even buy the depths of God’s love for me unless I believe that Jesus was actually the kind of human who occasionally said “NO” to someone in need. Like right here, in this conversation with a Syrophoenician woman. In saying ‘no,’ Jesus reveals something here that's common to all humanity, that connects him with you and me. That thing is called “implicit bias.” Implicit bias is the invisible force that creates “us” vs. “them” thinking. It’s a totally normal human condition, and the gospel tells us it’s a part of humanity that’s in need of total redemption.
Us vs. Them. In Jesus’ day, the Jews and the Gentiles are a prominent example. People who followed traditions centuries in the making, vs. those that didn’t. This was a religious divide, yes, and often an ethnic us vs. them too.
In our day, any number of traits can distinguish us from them.
Our “Jews” and “Gentiles” might be
East River/West River
City Kid/Country Kid
THOSE family members/US
Folks on Medicaid or TANF/ Folks insured through employment
Church Goer/Spiritual but not religious
These distinctions often cause division, but Jesus reveals a new truth in this story: it doesn’t have to be that way.
Implicit bias was once a survival mechanism of our species, still is in some ways. Stick with who looks like you, it’ll serve you well. Even Jesus prefers to engage his Jewish people, not the Gentiles. We find Jesus in the region of Tyre, filled with Gentiles, doing what exactly? “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” Has that ever been you?
Hiding! Oh but Spirit is always at work, isn’t she, ushering in moments of redemptive grace. Even for Jesus. That’s the good news that occurs when Jesus’ implicit bias is brought into the light by this brave non-Jewish woman. She says “I know I don’t look like you, but I also believe you’ve come to set my daughter free.” After saying no the first time, Jesus takes a beat, listens to this woman proclaim faith in a God that’s bigger than implicit bias, and Jesus gives this woman the time of day after all. Was it simply a test of some sort for his disciples? We can’t know that, but we can trust all the more that Jesus was fully human in this moment.
He goes on to heal yet again, this time a deaf man. And seeing his miracles, the crowds proclaim, “He has done everything well.” I would contend the best thing Jesus does that day is expose this us vs. them thinking as a myth. It doesn’t have to be this way. Syrophoenician women deserve God’s grace too.
And in that single miracle, Jesus transforms humanity into a community that reaches beyond implicit bias.
Oh but it’s always with us, isn’t it? Here’s my example of implicit bias. Briggs had his first soccer games this week. On Tuesday, his team Orange Crush played the kids in the maroon jerseys, which included our church friends Fox & Tayson. I’m on the sidelines cheering my heart out, because that’s what I do, and I felt this tension inside. I REALLY wanted Briggs’ team to win. I also REALLY wanted to root for Tayson & Fox. Competitive sports is a great example of us vs. them thinking because so often, that’s exactly what happens. If I root for my team, I am obligated to NOT LIKE the other team, right? I’m sure you have your own examples of this competitive nature. But what if it doesn’t have to be like that? What if there’s another way to be truly competitive AND honor the intrinsic value of your opponent?
I was thrilled when orange crush won the game. I was also really proud of Tayson (who took a ball to the face and got back in there) and Fox (who laid it all out on the field, literally), because real community (centered in Christ’s redemptive promise) will always be stronger than competition. I can root for my team without hating the opponents. It’s possible, and we know because Jesus was really human, he said no to his religious and ethnic opponent AND THEN he said yes. And that yes makes all the difference.
The author of Galatians reminds us, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith [...]There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
If you choose to believe this, then Christ has the power to set you free from implicit bias and unhealthy competition.
This week, let’s consider what forces are holding us back from full communion with others (what us vs. them thinking still has power over us)- and be brave to let Christ transform our thinking into us….and them too.
Prayer: Christ came to set us free and we become free when we let go of hatred, fear, and resentment, praise be to God!
Rev. Emily Munger
delights in connecting sacred texts with everyday life.