Most Christians look at Jesus as the perfect human — perfect God and perfect man. Everything he did while he was on earth was good and right and true. Jesus is regarded as a maverick, championing human rights, women’s rights, and racial equality way ahead of his time.
I was reading a “random lunchtime reflection” of my Christian friend, Nate, who was musing on the persecution and discrimination of minorities. He recalled the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman (John 4) who initially refused to give him a drink on the basis of their racial enmity. But, Nate concludes, “Jesus offers her not only salvation but interestingly, also equality and freedom…”
I used to think like this as well. Jesus was my ultimate hero, my idol, and there was nothing he did that could possibly be wrong because he was, well, God in the flesh. When I began stripping away my beliefs, Jesus was one of the last to go, because he was the one that I had a supposed relationship with. But as I distanced myself, I began to read many of the stories more critically than I did before.
(Disclaimer: I will be discussing the stories about Jesus AS IF they actually happened. I have reasons to think they might not have happened the way they were narrated, if they happened at all, but that is another story.)
The anecdote about Jesus and the Samaritan woman does seem to imply that Jesus wasn’t a racist. However, there is this other story in Matthew 15:21-28 where a Caananite woman came to Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter from demon possession. Jesus initially doesn’t mind her, but she was persistent. His disciples finally asked him to send her away.
Then Jesus told the woman,“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
Still the woman persisted, so he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
To which the woman replied, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Jesus was then amazed at the woman’s faith and proclaimed her daughter as healed.
I used this story to mess around with Nate’s head a bit, to present another story showing Jesus was not as racially unprejudiced as he thought. The story shows snobbish, supremacist Jesus who wouldn’t give the time of day to this woman he equates to a dog. It is probably only the woman’s witty reply that saves her and makes him change his mind. But what if she had just scurried away at his stinging remark? Would her daughter still be healed?
The usual apologist explanation to this story would be something along the lines of Jesus making that remark on purpose in order to draw out the woman’s faith. Now, if you are a Christian, you would, of course, be inclined to accept this and be thankful even that such a wonderful explanation existed. It just doesn’t make sense for me though. Besides, this is not the only passage that shows Jesus favoring the Jews.
Another passage I find really uncharacteristic of a sane person can be found in Mark 11:12-14:
“The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then he said to the tree, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again.’ And his disciples heard him say it.”
The story goes on to say that when they passed the tree again the next day, it had withered and the disciples were amazed.
So let’s get this straight. The perfect God-man sees a fig tree that didn’t have figs (because it wasn’t the season for them) and goes into a little tantrum because he was hungry and curses the tree to die.
(Yes, I’ve read the various apologist commentaries on this passage. No, they are not really that satisfying, unless you are already predisposed to believing them anyway, because the alternative is simply unthinkable for you at this moment in time.)
Originally published in Sunstar Davao.