The phrase that most gets my attention in this Gospel passage is where it ends, about Jesus’ giving “hope to the Gentiles.” Gentiles are not Jews. If you were a Gentile, by culture and class, where you lived, what you ate, what work you did, how you dressed and appeared, what you valued, what you believed, if you were a Gentile, you were very, very different from a Jew. As a Gentile, you would face all kinds of discrimination at the hands of Jews, Jews who were convinced they were on the right side of God. Jesus’ takes on a ministry “to the crowds” of equal access to God – to God’s love, God’s hope, God’s provision – the same for people very different from his own was radical. It’s actually a radical shift in Jesus himself.
We’re reading today from Matthew chapter 12. Three chapters earlier, Matthew chapter 9, we witness a very Jesus. He says, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Two chapters before that, in Matthew chapter 7, Jesus has an encounter with a Canaanite woman who has a sick child. She asks for his help and he refuses because she is a Gentile, he even says she’s like a dog. (1) But Jesus changes. The Gospels show a radical conversion in Jesus, to where he eventually tells his disciples at the end of the Gospel according to Matthew to “go into all the world.” (2)
Jesus ends up showing a preferential option to everyone who were otherwise subject to appalling discrimination, especially by religious people. Jesus ends up entering graveyards which is where homeless people – people labeled as “demon-possessed” – would often look for shelter. He eats with anyone who will share their food – and most any kind of drink and food – and for that reason he is called impure and a drunkard and a glutton. He didn’t just talk about forgiveness; he was forgiving… and so he had a reputation of being “a friend of sinners,” because he was always with the wrong kind of people. Jesus goes beyond relating to “the other” – people who were very different from who he was and from where he had come. Jesus even comes to identify with them. And so, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus says, “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” “…Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” (3)
Jesus changes. The word for this inner change is “conversion.” Conversion is about having more and more space in our mind and heart for the “other” people of this world, people whom God so loves. Jesus changed. If we are following him, we are going to need to change – it’s a life-long conversion – to not only serve Jesus but to see Jesus in the “other,” whoever is “other” to us, different from us, not “normal” to us. We’re going to need to keep changing. And this is very challenging news. The good news is it’s possible, amazingly possible.
Lord Jesus: supply what you command.
- Jesus makes reference to some people as “dogs” at Matthew 7:1-11 and Matthew 15:21-31, and then, before our eyes, he has a conversion.
- Matthew 28:19.
- Matthew 25:35-45.
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