Everyone's a little bit racist

There is a rather naughty, but very funny, stage musical called 'Avenue Q', which is rather like a grown up version of the Muppet Show. In it there is a number entitled 'Everyone’s a little bit racist', in which the characters oblige each other to recognize that each of them has racist tendencies, they sing:

Everyone’s a little bit racist, sometimes,                                                                           doesn’t mean we go around committing hate crimes,                                                           look around and you will find,                                                                                             no one’s really colour blind,                                                                                               maybe it’s a fact we all should face,                                                                                   everyone makes judgements based on race.

Are you a little bit racist? No, I’m sure you will say that you are not. However if pressed might you say, 'I’m not racist, but…. I don’t like………’  Do we ever make judgements based on race and nationality, perhaps sweeping generalizations based on personal experience, or reflecting stereotypes based on media reports?

Might Jesus be accused of racism in today’s gospel reading when he infers that the woman from Canaan, a pagan land, is a dog, and her sick daughter not deserving of healing as she is not Jewish? Why would Jesus behave like this? Is he tired, and also irritated by the woman’s persistent nagging.

Jesus uses this encounter to teach his disciples. They want to get rid her of her, because she is driving them crazy with her shouting. Heal the daughter and she’ll leave us in peace, they say.

Perhaps Jesus  says what the disciples would want him to say: Christ is for the Jews, for them.  But this episode marks a transition, This episode comes between the feeding of the five thousand, which is seen as being for the Jews and the feeding of the four thousand, which was seen as being for the gentiles.

Jesus says he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but in St John’s gospel he also says that he has many sheep that are not of this fold. And at the end of St Matthew’s gospel he will send the apostles out to make disciples of all the nations.

The woman has great tenacity which helps her get what she wants. She has faith; though a foreigner, she acclaims him as Sir, Lord, and by his Messianic title, Son of David. The faith of this unclean foreign woman is far more commendable than the hypocritical Pharisees and teachers of the law whom Jesus has lambasted in the passage prior to this. They would not even have spoken to this woman.

Perhaps Jesus is being playful when he says about the bread of the little ones being tossed to the little house dogs.  There is a fine line between being playful and being offensive, which depends on the intention behind the remark. I think it noteworthy that what ‘comedians’ say about people from Norfolk to get a cheap laugh would have them up in court if used against people of other races. When a student  said on crossing the county line, 'welcome to Norfolk give me six!', I did want to give him a slap.

Racism is ugly and abhorrent as is whatever makes anyone feel inferior, or suffer discrimination. Our country can be proud of the advances made to combat it.There are many noisy complaints about immigration into this country. But surely we all basically want the same thing, a good home, a good job, perhaps to raise a family, with good prospects for our children. 

If people cannot meet these  aspirations where they are, then they move, and it has ever been thus as Robert Winder observed  in his excellent  history of immigration to Britain, ‘Bloody Foreigners’, Every new wave of immigration has been resented, from the earliest times: 'foreigners coming over here and taking our jobs, and taking our money'. But this country rapidly assimilates those who come to live here, and he said:

 ‘it is hard to imagine a time when Britons might be obliged or eager to pay £5,000 to an obvious criminal for some false papers and a place in the back of a container lorry bound for Baghdad. But if life really is a lottery take a look at the person in the queue in Croydon, or cleaning offices in Manchester or delivering pizzas in Leicester or mowing grass in Canterbury. It is an uncomfortable thought, but it really could be you.’

Through the Prophet Isaiah, God declares that his temple will be called a house of prayer for all nations. Our Christian religion challenges us to imagine what life is like for the other, what drives people to get into a container in Zeebrugge to come here. Today’s  gospel asks:  if I were a dog at the table, what scraps would I hope to be thrown at me.