A human Jesus


Week of August 8
Gospel: Matthew 15:10-28

Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.


I remember my shock as a teenager, when the minister’s wife snapped at him. I was horrified. How could she? Worse was to follow; he was unmistakeably cross back at her.

My heroes turned into ordinary people. They were really human. I had been projecting something else onto them.

I love this reading in Matthew, because here, at last, Jesus is fully human.

There is so much making of Jesus into a God who walked on earth, a God who is above anything I could ever be. He becomes a god-man who could never have been real, and an impossible act to follow.

Even progressive friends speak about the human Jesus in a way that makes Jesus seem too good to be true; too human to be real. These friends have no trouble hating Paul; he often disgusts them. But Jesus is always too perfect.

I’ve always wondered just how much I would’ve liked Jesus. He was so committed, so definite, so very passionate. I might have found him too much. But my friends say, “No, he was perfect. He accepted everyone. They all loved him.”

That doesn’t sound human to me. Even the best people I’ve known upset somebody. And even the people I’ve looked up to the most, let me down and disappointed me, because they, too, in the end, were only human.

Somehow people make Jesus exempt from all this. But he can’t have been. Not if he was truly fully human like me. That’s the problem. If Jesus is perfect, he is not human. He is not someone I can follow. He is an impossibility. “That which he has not assumed he has not healed,” said Gregory of Nazianzus

And here we see it. He is human. He drops a racist clanger; one of those unbelievable gaffes that embarrasses the whole dinner table; completely politically incorrect, bad taste, not funny, and not meant to be. “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

The children are the people of Israel. The Gentiles are dogs; scum.  The salvation and healing of God is not for them. Jesus who had compassion on all the sick people and healed them (14: ) didn’t actually think Gentiles counted as people. God’s kingdom was not for them.

I hear it at church. We talk about them; the black people. They are them, not individual people. They are a group definable by colour. We treat them as a unit, they are all the same. It’s not somebody forgot to turn off a light; it’s one of them. And now Jesus has said it too. “It is not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

And I breathe a great sigh of relief, because Jesus is human. He is not some made up person. He is not a pretend god-man that we made up. He is real. He is human like me. Perhaps, then, I can be like him.

We’ve been apologising for him forever, of course. He was just testing the woman, we say. Or it’s not really dogs that he said, more puppies. He’s being playful. “I’m not racist,” says the person who has just damned all black people together, “they just have to be like us, now that they are here in our country.” And this about Australian citizens!

The simple undeniable fact is that Jesus made a mistake. He dropped a racist clanger. He was not inhumanly perfect. He was fallible like the rest of us.

There is just one difference. When he was challenged, he didn’t try and wiggle out of it. He didn’t say, “I’m not racist, but....” He instantly repented.

She said, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

No defensiveness. No “I’m not racist but...” Only instant admiration for her courage, and instant repentance of his behaviour.

If I could be like that, even sometimes, I would be well pleased. This Jesus is a hero worth following.

Similar treatements of this theme in Mark, Matthew,  and also in Matthew.

Andrew Prior

Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!




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