by Christopher Harbin

This content is part of a series.

Unclean Foreigner (40 of 52)
Series: Discipleship
Christopher B. Harbin
Matthew 15:21-28

I lived near Charlottesville, Virginia for several years. In the midst of a very conservative rural portion of the state, Charlottesville stood out as a beacon of higher education and a town with a very cosmopolitan flavor. We encountered Ethiopian cuisine, Indian cuisine, a Brasilian pizzeria, and a host of people that gave it a feeling of having a place in the global economy. To find it the center of a rallying place for a demonstration to unite the alternative right groups of white supremacy is quite a shock to the identity of Charlottesville as a gathering place for people from all walks of life, races, cultures, and backgrounds. To hear claims of white supremacy in Charlottesville linked to avowals of Christian faith forces me back to the struggles of my own heritage with issues of race in opposition to the teachings of Christ Jesus.

In Matthew 15, we find Jesus leaving Israel after talking with others about issues over ritual impurity and what defiles someone before God. The standard understanding of Jesus' peers was that one needed to obey all the laws of ritual purity to be sure that you would not be impeded from entering the Temple and seeking God's presence and blessing. After casting those concepts aside and offering a very different perspective, Jesus left Israel and traveled to Phoenicia.

There in this region between Tyre and Sidon, Jesus would be completely surrounded by people who were all ritually impure according to Jewish traditions. None of those he encountered could be expected to fulfill any, much less all of the purity laws. Every single person he would meet would fall outside the lines of what Jewish tradition considered appropriate to participate in the worship of Yahweh.

These people ate the wrong foods. They wore the wrong clothing. Their racial heritage did not descend from Abraham. Their traditions, rituals, and norms were contrary ...

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