Would Jesus support something like DACA?
I get the impression that many Christians would not hesitate to say “Yes!” — and insist that someone like Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton is not acting much like a Christian here:
Here is my perspective on the issue: we need to think about how an outsider can “beat” Jesus in a debate, and how this might apply to beating “citizens of Rome” in debate as well…
You might need to be patient as you work through this..
Jesus wants you to “beat” Him in a debate.
Really — its true!
That said, you don’t beat Jesus in debate by trying to remove the sting of uncomfortable Bible passages – one of which is clearly Matthew 15: 21-28 (where a Canaanite woman “beats” him in debate!)
And you don’t beat a citizen of Rome by denying – or failing to deeply appreciate – the wisdom of the dictum “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”.
Modern Christians might want to think that Jesus calls the Canaanite woman “a little dog” with a wink and a nod, but the text gives no indication that this is what he was doing. In fact, the text does not even give a clear indication that Jesus intended to test the woman’s faith.
Rather, read straightforwardly, the whole thing just seems positively brutal to most of us. We might even be tempted to consider a “progressive Christian” interpretation, where the woman enlightens Jesus, waking him up to his prejudices!
One commentator, fixating on the very real struggle of ethnic hostility (“Canaanite” = enemy of Israel!), even says this passage forces us to deal with the issue of “theodicy,” which is commonly defined as “the vindication of divine goodness and providence in view of the existence of evil.” In this case, presumably Jesus’ or his disciples’ intolerance of diversity – of the Canaanite kind in particular – is in view.
Clearly, anyway you slice it, the “outsider” motif is deeply present in this Bible passage. What might this short account have to teach us as Christians today? What might it be able to teach real outsiders, when it comes to Christianity or otherwise?
There are two primary things that come to mind here: first, Jesus shows us that it is proper to have a hierarchy of concerns when it comes to our neighbors’ needs. Second, knowing a bit about the historical circumstances of this parable can assist us to better understanding what the passage is saying.
First, it is critical to notice that it is love and loyalty and not hate, that drives Jesus. He is loyal to His people, naturally and spiritually, and has a mission that He has been sent to accomplish.
But doesn’t Jesus love all people?
Yes. That said, while all human beings are God’s “offspring,” as we read in Acts 17, God had nevertheless bound Himself to Israel, Jacob’s line, in a very special way. Here, they in fact have His priority attention, much in the same way that natural children have their parents’ attention. In like fashion, the Apostle Paul is not shy about his own natural affections for his “race,” (see Romans 9:1-5) and doesn’t for nothing say “anyone who does not provide for their relatives, and especially for their own household, has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (I Tim. 5:8). After all, even pagan authors like Cicero and Epictetus recognized that “Nature produces a special love of offspring,” and “Natural affection is a thing right according to Nature,” respectively (C.S. Lewis).
And while the parable of the Good Samaritan should rightly challenge us all, there is nevertheless to be a hierarchy among our concerns.[i] Again, Paul has a word which 21st century Christians, often very eager to reach out to “outsiders”, miss: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Galatians 6:10, italics mine). This, of course, includes not only physical provision, where there is concern for one’s basic needs, but spiritual provision as well.
And, of course, ideally one’s natural family is included among the family of believers – and is hence eager to receive spiritual provision. At the same time, they may not be, in which case a believer’s circumstances may certainly dictate some measure of emotional withdrawal and investment (as regards them, not necessarily as regards them in your prayers before God!), even if the duty to provide for physical needs never really goes away. Your relatives’ – particularly your childrens’ – provision and protection come first.
Therefore, an important part of the Gospel message is that God unites Himself, knits Himself, together with us in nature, first as regards the Jews, and then as regards the Gentiles… He becomes one of us, re-uniting Adam’s fallen race to Himself by assuming our human nature in the Jew Jesus Christ! The message here is that there is a sense that our family, our heritage, our own father and brother protects and saves us.[ii]
The earthly reality of family is, like marriage, an echo and icon of the heavenly reality!
Jesus is ”a member of the Israelite nation from the family of David…. All nations and races, also the noblest ones, are also guilty of his death and daily become guilty of it anew, when they insult the Spirit of grace (Hebr. 10:29).” — The 1930s Bethel Confession
With this in mind then, let’s take a look at the historical background surrounding this story.
At this time in Israel’s history, there were certainly many who had become a part of “God’s household.” This meant that persons would adopt Israel’s way of life including one very peculiar part of its culture: its ceremonial practices, including but not limited to things like Sabbath observance, Festival Days, animal sacrifices, food laws, and of course, circumcision. This was a high price to pay, but many were willing to pay it, becoming Jewish proselytes and becoming integrated members of God’s chosen people.[iii]
Jesus Himself surely knew that there were god-fearing Gentiles who had been incorporated into His own family line. One recalls women like Rahab and Ruth in His own earthly family’s genealogy. It seems logical that even if a person had not become a formal “proselyte,” any person friendly to the Jewish culture – and even religion! (the Jews called these persons “god-fearers”) – would not be someone to formally shun or worse!
As one scholar puts it, writing about Jewish proselytism even in Jesus’ own day:
Jewish ‘chosenness’” is defined “not as exclusive but as exemplary; not as separatist but as representative; not as closed but as open; not as rejecting but as all-embracing and compassionate” (Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, Not by Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism, 8)[iv]
Even with Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisee’s own missionary impulses (see Matthew 23:15), there is no reason to assume all the Jews who desired converts were so misled.[v] So what, really, can we get from Jesus’ actions towards the Canaanite woman? First of all, while there are times that we are told in the Bible that Jesus chose to be aware of what the motives of others were, we are given no indication that that is happening here. Second, as one need not imagine that Jesus is playing chess with the woman, looking to test her faith in this way, one also need not imagine that Jesus feels any hostility towards her – or even callous indifference. Rather, He is simply focused on His mission and (very!) matter-of-factly states the case.
“Playing hard to get”? “Frankly my dear….”? What?
As Alexander MacLaren put it some time ago:
The meaning of the whole is simply the necessary restriction of His personal activity to the chosen nation. It is not meant to wound nor to insult, though, no doubt, it is cast in a form which might have been offensive, and would have repelled a less determined or less sorrowful heart.
In any case, the woman truly does seem to surprise Jesus! She agrees with everything He says about it not being good to throw the children’s bread to the dogs – even as she still manages to insert herself into the Narrative. No doubt, His delight in her faith – I don’t think for a minute He was eager to be rid of her — foreshadows the more intensive evangelistic push to actively bring Gentiles into the formal congregation of God’s people, or “church.”
And of course, a big part of this was the rescission of the ceremonial practices discussed above. This is no small deal, as can be seen in Colossians 2:17 and Acts 10-15. Paul also wrote the following important words in Ephesians:
11Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
This is good stuff! At the same time, perhaps we are now tempted to say: “Thank God our situation is no longer anything like that of Jesus’! At least we don’t have to worry about incorporating ‘the other’ into formal structures of culture that they will, at times, find constricting and oppressive.”
But this is not the case, even if an individualistic virus which has infected us — perhaps particularly virulent among Americans – would say that it is. The church is still a family, and not a business, and hence still has a “culture,” or, if you prefer “house rules.” It still has its practices which some, from the outside, find alienating. That said, the goal is that familiarity with the day-to-day lives of Christians will not breed contempt, but rather curiosity regarding the treasures of the church – its God-given word and sacraments. Here, beautiful passages like I Peter 3:15-16 illustrate the goal well.
And of course, the ultimate hope is that the church’s crucified Lord will draw all persons to Himself, and into the household of God. That eventually, those on the “outside” will be integrated into the life of the church, its Scripture and sacraments, its simple way of life, its culture of worship and prayer.
Christians are now a “Third Race,” set apart from both [unbelieving] Jews and Greeks… – Aristides
This takes time. Years. Decades. Centuries. Millennia. We have forgotten. We have no long game.
And now let me get really controversial. Applying this to the recent globalist-nationalist debate, the same is true not only for churches, but for nations as well. Different nations – made up largely of different ethnic groups – have their own distinct cultures that animate their nations. There is a reason, after all, that Japan is Japan, Norway is Norway, Iran is Iran, and England is England (see Acts 17:26) — and that we like the idea of these nations preserving and keeping their heritage.
And yet, on one level, this sounds wrong to us as Christians. Does not Paul say that God’s “purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two.” Is this not why the early Christian apologist Aristides said that Christians were now a “Third Race,” set apart from both Jews and Greeks?[vi] (apologia 2).
Yes – this is the kind of thing we long for – even as we know the book of Revelation still seems to celebrate our distinct tribal and ethnic identities.
Therefore, at the same time, it is not wrong for Christians in these nations to be concerned to protect their own cultural heritage. There is nothing wrong with them being focused on helping their own families and closest neighbors first. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help refugees in need within the borders of those refugees’ own nations instead of inviting them into their own homes. And when it comes to normal immigration policy, there is nothing wrong with them “playing the long game,” even towards persons who are purportedly eager to adopt the best of classical American (or pick any other nation that feels strongly about its culture!) values.
Because all of this takes time. As with the Canaanite woman, there can certainly be exceptions to the rule. Many people have successfully lived away from their compatriots in foreign lands. There are some people who really are willing to join a new nation and are even willing to fight — when necessary — against their native land (as some American-Germans did in the first two world wars). But exceptions do not make the rules.
And not only is there nothing wrong regarding all of these thoughts above. In fact, there is something right about all of them! Where does Jesus stand in the Globalist-Nationalist Debate? The answer is simple. Jesus has both “globalist” and “nationalist” things to say, but many seem unable or unwilling to see this today. Jesus Himself, of course, is not “worse than a pagan,” unwilling to give primary attention and aid to His own family, relatives, tribe, nation (for more nuance, see the arguments in my post about Christians and nationalism).
In a day when persons concerned about issues of culture and borders are increasingly derided as the worst of racists or at the very least getting dangerously close to this (by the way, if one had feared Germany in the 1930s would that have been xenophobia? What if you were a native American in the 1800s?), more and more might come to the conclusion that it is time to say – without any hate in one’s heart – “I’m sorry. I know you don’t want to go back to your home country, but this isn’t working.” And while we are at it, it might not be a bad idea to urge the “best and brightest” from abroad to consider that to. Because they also have an obligation to their own families and people, and how are we not being a bit selfish for tempting them to think otherwise? Do we honestly think those countries would appreciate us taking all of their best and not sending some of ours in return?
“Struggle is not the basic principle of the original creation, and a fighting attitude is therefore not a commandment by God established by the original creation.” – 1930s Bethel Confession.
I know. I know! It all sounds wrong to us.
But I truly wonder whether to speak otherwise is to say “Peace, peace” where there is none (take a look at this and ponder). At the very least, when it comes to what a nation can sustain while retaining its character, how many is too many?
The fact is that we will be infected with sin until Christ returns. And yes, we will be many nations until the One Kingdom of heaven. The church has helped us to get a glimpse of the One Kingdom to come now, but instead of being thankful for these humble first fruits, have elite intellectuals in the West attempted to hijack Christianity in the service of their own, Christ-less, utopian dreams?
That is going to fail – and make a lot more of us outsiders and refugees.
Lord, in these last days when you said faith would be rare, give us all faith like that Canaanite woman.
You, after all, are our only hope.
[i] In Acts 10:34, Peter says: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.” Truly, among those who believe, it makes sense to insist that God loves His children equally, and yet that this love is not always manifested nor experienced equally. For instance, as I previously wrote “I remember hearing a father say to his son: ‘I love all of you – but I have to admit my feelings for your brother are stronger’. Why, according to him, was this the case? Because of all of his offspring, he felt that his son’s brother needed his love even more.” I also think about things like this when I read Romans 9:4a, 9:7b, 11:18b, 11: 24, and 11:28-29.
[ii] What about the marriage imagery? The point here is that God does, in fact, mean for all persons to be His body, fully united with Him (think here of the disturbing illustration in Ezekiel, where He adopts and then, when she is ready for love, marries the one He adopts…).
[iii] In a post recently done here on my blog, I wrote the following:
In a footnote, [John Nolland, in his 2005 commentary The Gospel of Matthew,] shares related thoughts:
“G. Jackson, ‘Have Mercy,’ maintains that Matthew’s account is informed by traditions of Gentile women becoming converts to Judaism as proselytes. Though there are some similarities, the case is not strong, and even if such traditions are being echoed, the image of dogs eating the crumbs suggests, contra Jackson, that, despite her very Jewish faith, the Canaanite woman becomes a beneficiary of Jesus’ ministry not as a freshly made Jewess, but as a Gentile (pp. 635-636).
Keep in mind, that at this point, to say this is to say that she was still, to some degree, on the outside. People who would have been ideal believers at this time in Israel’s history were persons like Jesus’ parents, who valued and followed the ceremonial practices of the Jews (circumcision, food laws, sacrifices, Sabbath), even as they also, like the “true Israelite” Nathaniel, recognized Jesus as the Messiah. While Jesus gave very clear hints that the Pharisees had wildly misunderstood the point of the Jewish ceremonial practices (particularly the Sabbath and the food laws), it is not until Acts 15 and Paul’s epistles where we see a more definitive understanding of these practices, that is, as their being shadows that were to fade and disappear (at least insofar as they were in some sense required of believers to perform) once the Messianic Age had been inaugurated.
[iv] Therefore, it is not surprising when we see John Nolland write the following:
“The woman accepts that she has no claim to be put on a par with the Jewish people in benefiting from God’s present intervention for the sake of his people, but even the dog get scraps, and that is all she asks for. This is likely to seem very demeaning to present sensibilities, but not to Matthew and not to the Jewish tradition more broadly. In the biblical materials they saw Gentiles, when beneficiaries of God’s activity, as fringe beneficiaries (footnote: “E.g., Is. 2:2-4; 14:1-2; 45:14; 60:10-14; Je. 16:19; Mi 4:1-4; Zc 2:11; 8:0-23; 14:16-19. There is a wider vision in Is. 19:18-25; 49:6; 56:3-8, etc) Mt. 28:19 breaks through, not the sense of Jewish privilege, but the marginality of Gentile involvement. The existence of such Gentiles as this woman prepares the way, but despite the popularity of the view that this is a story about how Jesus changes his mind, the present episode can in no way be represented as a breakthrough. Jesus does not change his mind at all (vv. 24, 26 are in no way retracted, even by implication); what becomes clear to him is what is appropriate in the case of this particular woman.”
Hager, in his Word biblical commentary on Matthew 14-28 and writing about Matthew 15:26 and 27, also offers important insights:
“The Jews universally assumed that eschatological fulfillment belonged to Israel in an exclusive sense. Many also expected that the overflow of the abundant eschatological blessing of God would be made available to ‘righteous’ Gentiles (i.e., by keeping the Noachic laws [Gen 9:1-17].” (442, Word).
Hagner notes the basic principle that physical Jewishness is not the key here but “ultimately receptive faith,” a view which Paul makes very clear in his writings, particularly Romans 4 and Galatians 3: “the privilege of the Jews is no longer unique…” (443, Word).
Again, before Jesus begin to effect changes, changes which were finalized at the first council in Jerusalem, people were expected to become Jews by rather fully adopting their culture and their ceremonies, and this is not Pharisaical (Jesus, of course, did accuse the Pharisees of abandoning God’s word for the “traditions of men”) but biblical (see, e.g. Exodus 12:19 and Exodus 12:48).
[v] Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler intriguingly writes the following:
“The notion that Judaism is not a propagating faith is far from the truth. It has been the practiced truth for the last four centuries, but it was not true for the four millennia before. Abraham was a convert and our tradition lauds his missionary zeal. Isaiah enjoined us to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and insisted that God’s house be a ‘house of prayer for all peoples’. Ruth of Moab, a heathen by birth, became the ancestress of King David. Zechariah foresaw the tie when men and women of every tongue would grasp a Jew by the corner of his garment and say, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you’.
During the Maccabean period, Jewish proselytizing activity reached its zenith; schools for missionaries were established, and by the beginning of the Christian era they had succeeded in converting 10 percent of the population of the Roman empire – roughly four million people.
It is true that there were countervailing pressures even in Biblical times. Thus, Ezra…. (Rabbi Alexander M. Schindler, Not by Birth Alone: Conversion to Judaism, 1).
See also Michael Bird’s very nuanced and careful conclusion of the evidence in his book Crossing over land and sea: Jewish missionary activity in the second temple period (pp. 149-156). Relevant to this post: “I do not doubt that virtually every Jewish group thought that being initiated into the commonwealth of Israel and living under the Torah was good and desirable for Gentiles, whether it was politically expedient was another matter” (151).
[vi] Biblically, earthly nations are inseparable from the concept of “ethnos,” from which we get “ethnicity”. In like fashion “genos”, from where we get “genes,” can be translated as offspring, family, race, nation, kind, or even sex. We see that these terms involve notions of blood and parentage, even if “ethnos” is more closely connected than “genos” with our notions of culture.
Christians are first and foremost citizens of heaven, not earth. In, but not of the world, their “dual ethnicity” means that they belong first to the kingdom of heaven, and are members of “God’s chosen ethnos” (I Peter 2:9). Though all are one “in Adam,” God has, post-fall, also ordained a diversity of nations (see Acts 17:26), from whom He will obtain worship (Rev. 7:9). Ultimately, the Church is a new Nation that re-unites, by faith in Christ, persons not just from this or that race, tribe, or nation, but from the entire human family – making one Nation, or more accurately, Kingdom.