When I was a kid I used to walk through woods on my way home from school reading my New Testament and be laughing to myself. I’d be like, “Jesus, you so crazy,” when I would read things like him telling some Pharisees and scribes that they were, “Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” The way I take it is that he’s basically dissing them by using toilet humor. Have you ever heard the saying, “Poop or get off the pot” aimed toward someone who says they are going to do something but doesn’t really get to it? Well when I read this I saw this image of a big mouth church person who can eat a camel but gets constipated when it comes to giving where it really matters (basically showing off with their offerings, but then doing things like judging people, spreading hate, or thinking of themselves as better than others).
23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
When I read stuff like this I would just be amazed that he would just say whatever he was thinking. He didn’t try to whitewash it. I always looked for the lessons in the things that seemed uncharacteristic of the Jesus I was told about in church. I really felt like Jesus was my best friend and that he got me better than anyone else. Maybe I was crazy, but it felt and still feels very real. The thing was that I most relate to the humanity of Jesus. I do not deny the divinity of him, but when I am trying to become a better person, it helps me to look at the places where he is dealing with human issues.
One such story was the one where he encountered the Canaanite woman who sought healing for her daughter in Matthew 15:21-28.
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
A lot of us carry these ideas about people who are different than us and we feel justified in our prejudice and ignorance. And I am not saying that sometimes there are “good” reasons why we held those assumptions in the past, but when we have a real encounter with a person that destroys our assumptions, it is time to shift. When we don’t do that we are just being blind and no matter how big our mouth is about loving people or being good Christians or whatever, it is obvious that we are straining at gnats while swallowing camels which makes us full of crap.
What I get out of that passage with Jesus and the woman he called a dog, is that we can be changed by an authentic encounter with people that are unlike us. I’m not trying to take anything away from Jesus, by suggesting he changed his mind in light of that woman’s faith. I’m open to the possibility that he was just playing a role for the sake of the people who were watching like some other commentators suggest, but even if he was, the message is still the same. No one expected such faith from a “Gentile dog”, especially the disciples who considered themselves to be so faithful. Either way, I take the story to mean that I shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover and that I should gracefully receive every opportunity to shift and see the beauty in the other. That’s what Jesus is talkin’ ’bout.