The trouble with stark words on a page is that we don’t know the whole story or the context or tone of voice. Did Jesus have a wry smile on his face or a grimace when he called gentiles dogs?
We simply don’t know so we are left to our imaginations but we do have the entire canon of the New Testament to set this story in context and it if it was meant seriously then it just seems so out of character. It was Jesus who after all gave us the parable of the Good Samaritan lauding the selfless service of a foreigner over and above the law bound Jews of his day.
But perhaps it points us to something far more interesting. Perhaps Jesus did in fact think he had come just to the Jews and it was only through his experience and growth, and encounters with people like this gentile woman in his life that it was revealed to him that he had a mission to the whole world and not just to his own people.
To me, the main problem with the story of the virgin birth is not the most obvious one. I see the main problem with it is that it encourages the belief that Jesus arrived on earth fully formed. He was God. So as a five year old he didn’t need to go to school – he already knew everything, because he was God. Joseph wouldn’t have needed to teach his son anything about carpentry. He would innately had the ability and skill to make the finest furniture because he was God. He didn’t need to learn to speak, to play, to be corrected or smacked, potty trained or learn the scriptures or religious ritual. In short, his life was a facade, an act.
But it just was not like that at all. Jesus, or to give him his real name, Joshua, was a little Jewish boy who grew up as any other Jewish boy would have grown up in Nazareth.
“For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground: he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces, he was despised and we esteemed him not”.
The real and true Christian hope is invested in a real person, a real life – a fully human Jesus. That is how and why we can so easily identify with him. To think that Jesus had to learn, to have revealed to him that his mission was to the world rather than just to the people of Israel sits uneasily with some Christians.
To the measure that we was God was in how his own will, character and actions was submitted and subsumed in the will of God which we believe in Jesus’ case was a perfect obedience to the Spirit and will of God. He knew God as love, he knew God as compassion and forgiveness. He knew that following God’s will would lead to his own suffering and death and he followed that will regardless. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself. So perfect was Jesus’ obedience. So open and full of the Father’s Spirit was Jesus that Christians have always been able to concur with Jesus’ own words as reported in John’s gospel that “I and the Father are one”
But what are the implications of all this for us? Well as I often do I turn to the teachings and practices of the Orthodox church for my lead here. They are much more explicit here than we in the West about the implications for us. They are bold in saying that while it may not happen very often the goal of the Christian life is to be at one with God as Jesus was one with God. This is a process of transformation and growth called deification and the goal is called “Theosis” the unity with God that Jesus modelled is a possibility for all Christians. The process of learning to walk the walk as well as walk the walk we know as a process called discipleship.
We are all called to be disciples of the way of Jesus, leading to oneness with the Father that Jesus modelled. WE know this is possible because Jesus like us was fully human.
In shorthand, our goal as Christians is to be like Jesus in his unity with the Father – to be as he is. That is the reason we come to worship, break bread, read the Bible and pray. To learn, to grow, to open ourselves to the Spirit just as Jesus did. Jesus himself said that this is a narrow path and few find it but that certainly doesn’t mean that we stop trying to find it. We are encouraged to seek the Kingdom of God. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. WE have to be persistent. In John’s gospel Jesus prays for all Christians. He prays for you and me and he prays like this;
“My prayer is not for my disciples alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one. I in them and you in me”