I am reading a book by an Irish man who is gay and who works at a retreat center in N. Ireland. He told a story about a time years ago when he attended a retreat to help gay and heterosexual Irish people come to terms with one another. Ireland wasn’t known at the time for being a hot spot of progressive Christian thought.
During this retreat, both groups of people were led through baby steps to get to know each other without fear or judgement. One of the men introduced himself as “a Fundamentalist Christian” and Patrick, the author of the book thought it was odd that that’s how he chose to identify himself, especially at a retreat designed to help people be more comfortable with each other. At the end of two days, the man who identified himself as a fundamentalist Christian said, “I have a question for the gay people in the room. Since we met together yesterday, how many times have my words bruised you?” Those were his exact words.
The gay people looked at each other, and felt awkward in the face of this man’s direct question. One gay man replied, “Ah, you’re grand, don’t worry about it.” The man said, “No, please, I’m asking a question, and I want you to answer. How many times, since we met together yesterday, have my words bruised you?’ A woman sitting close by began counting on her fingers as everyone watched. She finished up on one hand, then started in with the other, and in a quiet voice said, “I gave up after the first hour.” It was a hard truth to talk about.
The man with the question then asked another. “Do you mean to say that every time you come to meet people like me, you have to be ready to feel insulted?” All the gay people in the room said, “Yes.” The man looked at them all and said, “I’m glad you told me this today. I learned something important.” (In the Shelter Padriag O’Tuama pp. 197-199)
Jesus appears in this story as either very rude, or at least lacking some compassion for the woman and her daughter. When he says, “Let the children be fed first, for it isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” some scholars say that ‘dogs’ should really be translated as ‘little dogs,’ which are cute, like puppies, but others say either way, a dog is a dog. In that time and culture, it’s still an insult. What is he doing? Is this the Jesus we know and love?
Yes, because we believe that Jesus was the Son of God, Divine, and also 100% human. Sometimes we focus so much on the divine that we forget about the human. At the end of the story where Jesus was lost in the Jerusalem, and his parents finally found him in the temple listening to the teachers, the story ends with the line, “And Jesus increased in wisdom and in years, in divine and in human favor.”
He increased in wisdom. His mind grew, just like his body grew. He wasn’t born knowing everything in the whole world. As a human, he was limited. People have asked me, “Why did Jesus say that the mustard seed is the smallest of all seeds?” It’s not. Many flower seeds, tomato seeds, even some grain like amaranth, is smaller than a mustard seed. A mustard seed was the smallest seed he knew.
In Bible study one day, we were reading “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has lost it’s taste, how can it become salty again?” and Phil Momont, who was an engineer, said, “I never understood that passage. Salt isn’t a taste. It is an element, on the Periodic Table of the Elements. You can’t make it what it’s not. Salt can’t get unsalty.” And he was right. But Jesus wasn’t an engineer! He lived in a little town 2,000 years ago, and by our standards, he never traveled too far from home.
So, Jesus, the limited, human Jesus, even though he was the Son of God, in the early part of his ministry, thought he was only supposed to minister to the Jews, the Chosen Ones. Until now.
Now, this mother challenged him. And just like the man who identified himself as a Fundamentalist Christian recognized the truth and allowed himself to be changed by it, broadened, so did Jesus.