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That Time Jesus Learned His Lesson

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How good of Jesus. If only St. Paul had been so humble, and realized that the slave girl he exorcised (see Acts 16 [4]) was not possessed by a demon, but, as Episcopal Bishop K.J. Schori hath taught [5], had a “gift of spiritual awareness.”

Here we observe the core difference between progressive Christianity and traditional Christianity. The former thinks religion is primarily about what man has to say to God; the latter thinks religion is primarily about what God has to say to man.

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70 Comments To "That Time Jesus Learned His Lesson"

#1 Comment By MH – Secular Misanthropist On February 9, 2018 @ 10:29 am

Personally I don’t find this the most troubling example of Jesus behavior in the gospels. Previously I’ve mentioned Mark 11 and Matthew 8, which seem like wanton property destruction without a clear purpose.

But I have to agree with Turmarion, that Jesus apocalyptic beliefs were not only false, but frankly reminiscent of the behavior of a cult leader.

#2 Comment By sponder On February 9, 2018 @ 10:39 am

“the latter thinks religion is primarily about what God has to say to man.”

I would rephrase this to say “What they say God has to say to man.”

#3 Comment By Chuck On February 9, 2018 @ 10:50 am

The Church does not teach that Jesus was omniscient nor does She teach that He could not be persuaded.

Others before me have pointed out other scriptural references where God negotiated, so I don’t have to rehash that. But it seems some study in Christology might suit you here. Suggesting that Jesus changed his mind or learned something does not in any way make one unorthodox or ‘liberal’. Christian tradition finds fully orthodox persons thinking differently about Jesus’ human knowledge.

This is just another example of how quick you are to label in binary. It’s not helpful to Christian dialogue.

#4 Comment By grumpy realist On February 9, 2018 @ 11:17 am

Mmm. Speaking as a disinterested observer (pagan) isn’t the story of Jesus even more inspiring when there are instances showing that He grows and learns from His interactions with the world and other people? (I must admit that my interpretation is hopelessly influenced by reading Katzanzakis’s “The Last Temptation of Christ” over and over again. It’s a great piece of literature, no matter what one’s religion is.)

Otherwise, you seem to have simply a case of a deity who came down into meatspace and is walking around. Pretty boring and doesn’t bring anything special to the table. It wouldn’t surprise me that Gnostic traditions would insist on a Jesus who was speaking from birth–for them, the great divide was between the spirit and the flesh and that’s what their philosophies concentrated on. But a god-who-became-flesh who actually learns from experiences…? Very very interesting! Doesn’t this push the average human just a wee bit more along the path of “…if I try, maybe I can mimic God in a way, learn, and actually become a better person”?

$0.02 from the pagan peanut gallery.

#5 Comment By James C. On February 9, 2018 @ 11:59 am

Once upon a time preachers were licensed. Not all priests were permitted to preach. For the Church in those days, the grounding of the education of the faithful was in the liturgy and the liturgical year. Preaching was important, but it was strictly controlled to prevent speculative musings from ignorant, stupid, fanciful, heterodox or imprudent priests like the one referenced above.

#6 Comment By Greg On February 9, 2018 @ 1:05 pm

Did Jesus really mean what he said about the Syrophoenician woman and her daughter being “dogs”? That depends. Did God really intend to destroy the few righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah along with all of the wicked ones? Did He really mean for Abraham to sacrifice Isaac as though he were a sheep? Was He really going to destroy the rebellious Hebrews until Moses intervened? Throughout the Old Testament, God repeatedly says difficult things in order to test the faith of His servants. Abraham and Moses remember what God has promised them, and they believe enough in that promise to question Him when He looks like He’s going to break it. Jesus, being God Himself, is doing the same thing with the Syrophoenician woman. He’s deliberately testing her faith by inviting her to counter His suggestion that she and her daughter just don’t matter. I’m not surprised Father Martin doesn’t get this, but I’m still a little disappointed that all he gets out of this story is man correcting God.

#7 Comment By John Spragge On February 9, 2018 @ 1:07 pm

The text of the story shows the Syro-phoenician woman winning the argument. I have no trouble squaring that with my understanding of the Incarnation: when the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity, was incarnated, He was incarnated into a society with prejudice, exclusion and cruelty, like any other. His humanity contained the ability to learn, and in this story you see that aspect of His humanity, that side of the Incarnation.

Your theology may vary, although some well respected authorities tell me mine conforms to Christian orthodoxy. But as a story: if you set this story in the American midwest and adjusted the metaphor somewhat, then I suggest any reader would perceive the character in the role of the Syro-phoenician woman (Chicana? “white oppressor”? whoever) as winning the argument. She gets what she wants.

Christians will inevitably disagree about matters of theology. These disagreements unfortunately will harden into “sides”: your church versus my church, Pope versus Patriarch versus Moderator-General. That doen’t need to change the way we read the actual stories.

#8 Comment By lp On February 9, 2018 @ 2:53 pm

I am not a Christian. I am, however, a fairly proficient amateur musician, and, as such, have attended my share of church services. Now that I am in my fifties, I have heard in the neighborhood of 1000 sermons. I remember exactly two of them, one of them on this passage with this interpretation. I had previously thought that the Christian insistence on a personal relationship with Jesus amounted to histrionics. However, this memorable sermon changed my mind about how Christians might approach such a personal relationship. OK, Father Martin is wrong, wrong, and wrong. How then, does one have a personal relationship with a being with whom you may not have a conversation? Are the Psalms just nice little passages in Christianity?

Also, why are Christians so mean to each other over exegetical disagreements? Why did this get your dander up and you felt the need to use your rhetorical gifts in such a snide manner ? Not that my tradition has perfected debate by any means, but in Judaism debate about the nature of the divine is part of the fun. Why is such a debate for Christians such an unsettling affair? I really am trying to understand, not provoke.

#9 Comment By Ben H On February 9, 2018 @ 3:06 pm

Laughable considering that Catholic Liberals are still working based on the playbook from the 1970’s and have learned absolutely nothing, nothing since then. Pathetic to see these old fossils bring out the guitar, yet again, to get the young people, meaning the baby boomers, into church.

The ones who need to learn the most are the ones who think they have something to teach.

#10 Comment By Chris On February 9, 2018 @ 3:09 pm

The one thing to keep in mind is the rich irony of the story. Jesus and his disciples have left Israel proper and traveled 50 miles north of the border to a gentile region that was never ever part of Israel or the land given to Abraham. He meets s local gentile woman who hails him as “Son of David” emphasizing his Jewish royal heritage. He then says that he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel but he has left Israel and gone to a gentile region! Irony everywhere in this story and a gentile pagan woman shows more faith than many in Israel who rejected Jesus. This vignette is so full of Jewish irony it could be a Henny Youngman or Sienfeld routine.

#11 Comment By Ben H On February 9, 2018 @ 4:34 pm

The interpretation one has of this is largely based on Fr Martin’s baggage as a Church liberal who always says things that may be compatible with church teaching but at the same time sound “off” because of the context of his comments and the spirit in which they are offered. He does this all the time and is very good at it.

What he’ll never give you is a straight answer. This is supposed to be clever.

Sneakiness is a general character trait of the Catholic Church liberal.

#12 Comment By Steve S On February 9, 2018 @ 4:56 pm

Other comments reflect my frustration with Fr. Martin’s obstinacy in his rather trite interpretation of this Gospel passage. No need to repeat the many ways that he fails theologically here. Also, can he give the homily-by-twitter routine a rest, perhaps?

Mark Shea wrote an enlightening series of articles about this Gospel, one of which I have posted below. (I think Shea is at his best when he is doing traditional apologetics and exegesis. His recent cultural and political commentary is not as valuable, in my opinion.) But his writing here was very helpful for me, and I would recommend it highly:

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#13 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 9, 2018 @ 6:38 pm

Jesus and his disciples have left Israel proper and traveled 50 miles north of the border to a gentile region that was never ever part of Israel or the land given to Abraham.

According to Jewish tradition, the Samaritans were people sent to populate the land of Israel after the Ten Tribes were scattered throughout the Assyrian empire — and assimilated, unlike the remnant of Judah that survived intact in the Babylonia Exile and eventually returned. But they adopted a version of Jewish faith and practice to assuage “the God of the Land.”

As to Jesus learning things in his human body, it seems to me that God was incapable of feeling what it really felt like to be an imperfect human without the incarnation. So Jesus WAS learning that, and perhaps sorting out how to speak to these non-transcendent creatures meaningfully.

#14 Comment By Jefferson Smith On February 9, 2018 @ 7:11 pm

Also, why are Christians so mean to each other over exegetical disagreements? Why did this get your dander up and you felt the need to use your rhetorical gifts in such a snide manner ? Not that my tradition has perfected debate by any means, but in Judaism debate about the nature of the divine is part of the fun. Why is such a debate for Christians such an unsettling affair?

Excellent questions. I find this puzzling too.

#15 Comment By Giuseppe Scalas On February 9, 2018 @ 8:59 pm

One wonders why the evangelists have left those controversial passages when they made up the story… Or wait, maybe the story is not made up?

(PS, with respect to prophecy of Jesus about the end times, the translation of the word γενεὰ in Mt 24 as ilk, ancestry/descendance, race is much more convincing to me than the translation as “generation”. The Italian word genìa, which is a direct derivation from the Greek word has exactly the same meaning and almost the same pronunciation.

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#16 Comment By William Dalton On February 9, 2018 @ 9:31 pm

Jesus knew what his mission was better than did the Syro-Phoenician woman, but when he found faith outside of Israel, as he did with the Roman Centurion, he did not disdain to reward it. Neither, of course, does God in heaven. And he was preparing his disciples for the day, not long in coming, when the Gospel would be extended to the “nations”.

As for the distinction to be drawn, religion IS primarily about what man has to say to, and about, God. CHRISTIANITY is about what God has to say to man.

#17 Comment By Hector_St_Clare On February 10, 2018 @ 9:43 am

The alternative would seem to be that if he does knows, he’s still willing to pretend he doesn’t and insult this woman’s daughter on the basis of her ethnicity to make some kind of point about her unworthiness, only to heal her anyway.

Yes, more or less. That’s certainly easier to believe than that God, incarnate or not, genuinely didn’t know what his mission on earth was.

#18 Comment By RevJonathan On February 11, 2018 @ 8:08 am

Rombald: “Well, OK, but I’ve always found that a difficult passage. How would you explain it?”

MikeS: “Well, in terms of the actual text, Jesus did change his mind in response to the woman’s statement. How you would interpret it?”

For what it’s worth, I took this passage as my text for [8]. I don’t think you can read the text well without setting it in context of the Pharisees’ fault-finding, the disciples’ burn-out, and the coming-but-not-then-yet inauguration of the full Gentile mission. But in that light, I think it’s one of the Bible’s most dazzling displays of faith and of Jesus’ mercy.

James Martin empties the text of both, likely in the service of a ruinous agenda for the church.

#19 Comment By JonF On February 13, 2018 @ 4:53 pm

Re: . The Italian word genìa, which is a direct derivation from the Greek word has exactly the same meaning and almost the same pronunciation.

Is the word from Greek, or from Latin “gens” which indicates a clan lineage (e.g., the Julian gens, the Claudians gens etc.)?
As a caution the word “race” should be avoided as a potential translation as it carries far too much later historical baggage that would have been quite alien to anything anyone in the 1st century AD would have been talking about.

#20 Comment By Siarlys Jenkins On February 14, 2018 @ 1:29 pm

RevJonathan’s take on this passage is as good as any and better than many. It does not do violence to the text, it puts it in a larger context of relevant scripture, and it arrives at a conclusion that makes a modest contribution to helping a believer live a good life and walk in what we hope is something close to what God has ordained. Is it the exactly true interpretation? I don’t know, and I don’t think RevJonathan claims to know that with certainty either. But its as close as a fallible human being who has not been granted a direct revelation of the Lord of Hosts can come.