What did Jesus teach about racial equality? One insight is from the Gospel reading appointed for this week. It is the story of the faith of a Gentile woman. Twenty centuries after Jesus made these comments the world is still gripped by racial divide. We need only consider the recent ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign as well as other forms of persecution such as those affecting Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar or Christians in India today. To this list we can add a catalogue of atrocities in the last century from fascism to apartheid to ethnic cleansing in Africa and Europe. In Jesus’ day the divide was between Jew and Gentile (and male and female). Gentiles were regarded as ‘dogs’ by the strict Jews. In this story a Gentile woman asks Jesus for help. Now, Jesus’ mission was to start with the Jews – God’s chosen people first. His purpose was to fulfil all the prophecies of the Old Testament. It was also practical as much as anything else – since, in a human body Jesus could not go everywhere. However, in this story the present imperative and the future coincide. Jesus’ compassion and mercy flow beyond his current job role and he declares “Woman (not a derogatory term in that culture), your faith is great. Your request is granted.”
In the Epistle reading, the Apostle Paul demonstrates that God’s plan started with His chosen people but then flowed out to the Gentiles. God’s mercy is limitless. In fulfilling that plan, Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels frequently strays into Gentile territory and affirms those from racially and culturally segregated groups. If race does not matter to God, what does? The Gentile woman had tremendous faith and love for her daughter. This love impressed Jesus. It was this love which enabled Joseph to forgive his brothers despite what they had done. It was this brotherly love that the psalmist writes about in the song of ascent as the pilgrims converge on Jerusalem. If we develop loving relationships as brothers and sisters of one loving God, then any form of racial discrimination will disappear. This is the heart of Jesus’ teaching on racial equality.
Old Testament reading for this week: Genesis 45:1-15
Gospel reading for this week: Matthew 15:21-28
Epistle reading for this week: Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
Psalm for this week: Psalm 133