Thursday, February 19, 2015

Travel may not improve the mind

There is a travel program on PBS the narrator of which always concludes by quoting Mark Twain who wrote “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

That's good advice to any of us who have thoughts that we live on the only piece of ground worth living on. Even Jesus learned that as we see in the Gospel of Mark.

The Genesis accounts of creation explain to us that God is doing something new. Every day of creation was something new. In one of the accounts, God created man and woman, human beings. Something really new. 

God's creation ultimately resulted in the birth of his son who ministers first to his own people, the Israelites, the Jews. But in the Gospel of Mark we also see Jesus traveling to foreign territory, to Gentile territory. And while we know the Gentiles were pagans, it doesn't really mean much to us. If we put it in terms of today, we might understand it better if we saw the wall that divides Israel from the rest of Palestine. Like my generation did with the Berlin wall, the wall dividing Israel from Palestine has become something taken for granted by my generation. Or, when I was growing up there were parts of Indianapolis an East side white boy never visited because blacks lived there. Now it is frequently Latino populations. There are people different from us.

The human Jesus is at a period in his life when he has a bit of anxiety, uncomfortableness, uncertainty about who he is, about his mission. Today he is in pagan territory. Perhaps he had to pass through it to get to where he wanted to go but he is known as well here as he is on his home turf. And he is stopped by a woman seeking healing not for herself but for her daughter. 

Jesus is obviously edgey for he insults here. He shows absolutely no compassion at all. She is a dog. The Greek word here is puppy, but that still doesn't soften it. The woman is no better than an animal. But the woman is not cowed. There was grace here. The woman comes back at him and Jesus recognizes her and answers her for her persistence and courage. The woman will not give up because her need is desperate.

Is there not desperation among millions of people in our world? Refugees flood nearly every developed country in the world. There are also refugees who hide among us, the homeless, the unemployed. Did you see the video of Pope Francis making an unscheduled stop at the shantytown outside Rome on his way to visit a Rome parish? We may not think there are desperate people in this country but have you visited a nursing home recently?

What happens with Jesus? He talks with the woman and he responds to her desperation. In the Gospel of Mark it is the first indication that Jesus' ministry will not just remain among the Jews. Jesus has had a lesson in overcoming prejudice and bigotry. Jesus has talked with the woman and his anxiety lessened.

At a very simple level we too need to engage in dialogue with those we do not understand or dislike or don't want to know even here. We are in foreign lands when we feel the discomfort of a new situation. We have only to face it head on in order to deflate the balloons of prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.