We all live in circles. They are our personal environments—what the Germans call our Sitz im Leben, our place in life. Therefore, our mission impossible, should we choose to accept it, is to expand those circles, from the smallest to the largest possible. In doing so we become more like our Creator...
Consider this story from the Bible. In Matthew 15:21-28 we read the following: “21Jesus . . . went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”
To be honest, this is not one of Jesus’ finest hours. After all, he compares this fellow Semitic human being though not a Jew to a dog and in doing so refuses to help her and her daughter. Here the Son of God as he’s considered by Christians fails to show mercy to one of his Father’s creatures. Go figure! Fortunately, the desperate woman answers him in a way that causes him to rethink his position, to say something more appropriate, and in fact to heal the woman’s daughter. This story thus shows Jesus as both all-too-human and, happily, as willing to learn and grow as a human being.
We Jews often criticize Gentiles for excluding us from mainstream society. After all, we are people too. Yet, historically we have been among the most exclusivistic, othering groups on the planet. We have located ourselves in a tight little circle of just us: “God’s people” over against the Goyim; them. Similarly, all of us as individuals are understandably concerned about our own welfare: us against the world. Taken to extremes we become egoists, narcissists. Happily, many of us draw our circles wider to include family, friends, even follow members of our community. Then there is patriotism, a good thing if not taken to the extreme of chauvinism. But what about all people everywhere? As the African-American saying helps us remember: “All God’s chillen have wings.” Indigenous people may remind us to value the plants, animals, and Mother Earth herself and thus to draw our circle even wider. And Asian cultures can help us keep our ancestors in mind, while modern physics may open our minds and hearts to the Universe itself. So, this week’s questions are—What kind of circle do you live in? and Does it behoove you to make your circle bigger and more inclusive? To quote Jesus in a better context, “Those who have ears, let them hear.”