James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17
— we all have assumptions
It happened to me: I went into the grocery store, got myself some alcohol, went to the checkout line… and they didn’t ask for my ID. I officially look old enough to drink. At least, when Selena is with me. Alone, I still get ID. Just by having a daughter, people automatically assume I’m old enough to drink. I’m in the same clothes, look the same, same hair style… and yet… just her… and they say “Surely she’s an adult.”
When has it happened to you: How many gray hairs did you have when people began to ask if you wanted to use your Buck ID card, or view the Senior Portions menu, or sign up for your Golden Arch?
Sometimes this is based on our clothing. I once did a lot of urban exploring of abandoned buildings and climbing through them to take photos. If learned that if I did this is ratty jeans and a tank top, I’d get picked up by the cops for trespassing. But if I did it with a bright orange vest and hard helmet, no one would bat an eye. Once an officer stopped me to ask me to help get rid of the young adults in the ratty clothes! Based on the way I looked, others assumed whether or not I belonged in the building.
Have you been judged on your clothes? If not, try shopping once in your Sunday clothes, and another day in your barn clothes. You’ll see a difference! Covered in dust with cow or sheep paddies on your boots, people give you a wide berth. In your Sunday clothes, people want to stop and chat. Now… try wearing your Sunday clothes into the barn… everyone is going to think you’re some city-slicker and know nothing.
The obvious assumptions on looks occurring in our country are race assumptions. A black boy lawn mowing is considered profiling houses to rob, while a white boy is simply working a summer job. A Hispanic woman clearly speaks no English and is here illegally, while a white woman clearly must speak English and is a citizen. But we do other assumptions based on looks: An elderly person is slow of mind and out of touch with the world. A young person has no concept of community and is out of touch with morality.
We all make assumptions every day. It’s really how the human mind works.
This is natural to humans. We’re designed to look for patterns. From the womb we are learning the patterns of language. When we’re born, we learn what facial patterns means ‘My Mom’s Face’ and what part means ‘My Dad’s Face.’ Insight, and intuition, is leaps in logic regarding patterns. We see lots of little things and quickly pick up on the pattern and jump to a conclusion.
For instance… if I come home and see the trash scattered about the kitchen, and the dog looking guilty… I recognize this pattern. I can assume the dog likely got into the trash.
The problem with any assumption is that we could be wrong. Maybe the dog looks guilty because he thinks I’m going to blame him for what the cat did! And the cat is the one who got into the trash.
So assumptions aren’t evil. They’re pretty human. Actually…
— Jesus had assumptions
Jesus assumed he was sent only to his fellow Jewish brothers and sisters. He also assumed the gifts and love of God are limited. The idea of a universal God, who loves everyone, is not a common idea in Jesus’ time. Every race had their own god. Every city has their own god. The gods fight each other, are envious and jealous, and definitely do not help those who don’t believe in them.
Jesus has left the Jewish area into the surrounding lands. He is in pagan, Gentile, non-Jewish land. He’s been rejected by his fellow Jews, even after he fed them miraculously. They cannot abide the scandalous things he is teaching. So out here, away from the synagogues, he seeks some alone time. But he couldn’t even escape notice in a foreign land.
Can you pick a worse person to approach Jesus the Rabbi? I don’t think so. We can assume since she is a woman, without a husband around, she is bad news for any Jewish man to speak with. We can assume since she is Syco-Phonecian she isn’t a follower of our God. She’s some heathen. And that heritage means we can assume she’s richer than Jesus, and part of the people who are oppressing Jesus’ people. She says she has an demon-possessed daughter. So we can assume she’s unclean from being around her daughter, too.
Then she touches Jesus’ feet.
Thereby, making him unclean.
If you had to pick THE most repulsive category of person to approach you, who would it be? What would they look like? What assumptions would you make? Would it be someone dressed in ISIS gear? Rainbow gear? A woman in a burka? Someone covered in swastika tattoos? A large young black man? Picture this person, picturing them approaching you when you want to be alone. Picture them TOUCHING you, and demanding of you, “Give me your money to heal my child!”
Our savior is God’s Divine Word made incarnate. Incarnate means in the flesh. Our savior is also human. Wholly divine, wholly human. And the human side of Jesus is repulsed, repelled, by this woman. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
He was sent only to Jews. There is not enough God to go around.
— sin is when these assumptions lead to assuming the worst of people, or God’s love of people
We’re so uncomfortable with Jesus’ response to this woman because we expect him to always be wholly divine and not human. But he is also wholly human. And, for a human, he gives a very, very restrained and mild answer to this woman compared to what most of us would do in his situation.
He doesn’t tell her no, never — he tells her no, not now.
But he calls her and her child dogs.
Jesus assumes Jews are the only Children of God.
And that God’s love is limited to only Jews.
That person we’re picturing in our heads who most repels us… how do we handle to hear them ask for help for their little child?
When someone calls something we said racist, or privileged, or ignorant… we usually take it very, very poorly.
— When we’re confronted with our assumptions, we usually get very defensive / angry
I think the church who read James’ letter got pretty defensive and angry when he called their favoritism out.
What was happening in James’ congregation happens now, today, all the time. We favor people who appear rich –whether or not they are– over those who appear poor –whether or not they are. Consider – I walk through the grocery store and see the cover of magazines featuring the rich, the well dressed, the beautiful. I don’t see regular people. I don’t see anyone with acne scars, wearing thrift-store clothes, or having to live by a tight budget.
When we brag about meeting someone, we brag about someone rich and famous… not about having met the guy who begs for coins at the intersection… or having visited our sibling in a nursing home.
When people visit our homes, our works, or our church… we make a quick judgment: what are their intentions? What kind of person are they? The suits and professionally dressed are welcomed. The tattoos and ratty clothes held in suspicion.
James tells us that this is evil. We have evil thoughts. We assume who people are based on their looks, and we use one anecdotal story to apply to all people who fit that look.
The person you pictured earlier as most repulsive… are you basing them on anecdotal, one-time occurrence and word of mouth stories? Have you actually known anyone like the person you were picturing?
I have sinned and assumed the worst of others based on their age, or clothes, religion, or a single stance of theirs.
Consider the current rage over Nike’s endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick. People are so angry! Some stories claim Kaepernick is insulting the national anthem and soldiers by kneeling during it before football games. But that is not the true anger. That is the assumed anger. People are assuming the anthem and soldiers are what Kaepernick is protesting.
He’s actually protesting that assumption blacks are dangerous that leads cops to shoot and kill blacks proportionally far more often than whites… because we live in a culture of fearing blacks. He’s protesting that a white man can lie to the FBI, embezzle and rob millions of dollars from American citizens, and get off with 14 days in jail… but a black woman on probation votes, not knowing she was on probation still, and she is serving life in prison because of that vote. He is protesting that the negative assumptions our culture has results in real favoritism that truly harms – and kills.
Are you uncomfortable?
Are you uncomfortable when you’re told your assumptions, your culture, is wrong?
Are you uncomfortable by scripture instructing us to love everyone, including the people who wish us harm and stand against what we stand for?
Most of us get defensive. Angry. We close our ears, shut our eyes, and slam shut our hearts.
— But Jesus takes the woman’s challenge with humbleness and is open to changing his mind
This woman who approaches Jesus is opposite of him on so many things… but she is a person. A caring person. She asks just for the crumbs, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Just the crumbs are enough, and that’s all she asks. Not for life eternal. Not for being forgiven by God. She’s not asking for resurrection. She’s asking for a crumb: healing for her daughter. She knows the stories of all the other miracles Jesus has done. She knows and believes the stories of him being the Jewish messiah, the Jewish chosen one of God. And she’s not asking to be included into God’s marvelous plan… just for crumbs. And not even for herself, but for her daughter.
This woman presses against Jesus’ assumption that he is for Jews alone, and that God loves Jews alone. This woman challenges Jesus’ assumption on what is permissible and not. She is humane, she is loving, and she has insight into the true nature of God. That true heart of God is one that knows no ethnic, racial, or even religious boundaries. That true heart of God loves all of creation.
I think of the human Jesus reflecting on her words with astonishment. After he had done the divine miracle of turning a few loaves into enough for everyone, he had ordered every crumb picked up. And there was enough crumbs for baskets and baskets to be filled. God’s generosity and love for humanity is so grand that even after fully filling those who are present around God… there is still more food and provision for those who are far away. I picture the human Jesus realizing he has been sent not just for the Jews, but for the whole world — those who are faithful to God and those who are not. Sent to those who are saints and followers of the Law, and sent to those who are still sinners, and rejecting God. The generosity and love God has for us is such that even the crumbs from the feast God sets and invites us to are enough to feed the world new life many times over.
I picture the human Jesus coming to understanding he didn’t even realize what mission the divine Jesus is accomplishing in the world.
Humbled, corrected, enlightened, Jesus replies, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.”
And then Jesus doesn’t return to Jewish lands. He continues through pagan, non-Abrahamic lands. And in this strange land he begins to invite all to the table of God — not with lectures, not with insisting on right doctrines, or right beliefs, not by making everyone prove their worth… No… he goes and shares to all regardless of who they are. He goes literally and figuratively opening ears and mouths until everyone was zealously proclaiming the good.
— We should be like Jesus and listen when our assumptions are challenged
God’s love is so generous was then, and now, incredibly radical and hard to wrap our human minds around.
James explains it in legal terms. We’re supposed to speak, and act, as those who are judged with the law of liberty. This law of liberty gives everyone a fair shake. It promotes mercy over judgment. It offers equality among us all. It says that the person who appears homeless is equal to the person who appears rich… and indeed, it just may be that the poor person is the kinder person because they’ve known greater hardship than the rich person, who is used to settling things with lawsuits and money than with mercy and humility.
We all make assumptions. We all make judgments. The Christian — the Christ-like way — to react is the way Jesus does. He learns from the encounter. He is open to learning from the stranger. He is open to learning more about God and the love of God whether that education comes from fellows of his faith, or not.
You’re making assumptions now, and people are making assumptions about you. That, in itself, is not a sin. The sin is when we begin to act on those assumptions and make distinctions among ourselves that are unfounded.
There are white-skinned illegal immigrants.
There are Spanish-speaking citizens.
A person that believes something called Conservative or Liberal does not have to be in all things Liberal or Conservative. We each have our own values and our own road that led us to believe in them.
The love of God is such that every person, every animals, everything here on earth and in the cosmos is loved abundantly.
The richness of God satiates all poverty we have of heart; and invites us to begin anew with one another again. May we hear that invitation and understand each other better.
May we, when we get furious over a challenge to our values, take a breath – step back – and examine how to learn the others’ perspective, and how to respond with the graceful love of God.