Towards the end of Mark chapter 7 the writer tells the story of Jesus meeting the Greek woman whose daughter lived with mental illness. It represents a very significant event in Jesus’ ministry as he changed his ideas and plans. It seems that originally he took on a mission only to Jewish people, after this event, he went to the areas of what are now Syria and Jordan, liberated from Jewish oppression by Pompey in 63BC. These were people who worshipped many gods. He demonstrated that, whatever people believed, he was going to be there for them when they were in need.
Today’s accompanying reading is from the short, fiery, epistle from James to no-one in particular, more of a tract than a letter. From that document, we get the phrase: “Faith without works is dead” and also the converse, because James sees the two intertwined and inextricable. He also stresses that rich and poor alike are important and deserve the same respect. So, two lessons today: first, changing your mind and your mission is OK when you realise that the world is bigger and more complex than you had thought; secondly, all people are important, not just “people like us”.
Trying to chart how my beliefs and habits have changed over my lifetime is not easy but, as a serious example, the #metoo movement coming from abused women has clearly caused many men to revise what they consider to be acceptable behaviour. A more trivial issue: women who, fifty years ago, would not have been seen dead outside without a hat, now cheerfully go about bare-headed. More significantly: although there is more public swearing, you won’t hear the descriptions “Wop” “Dego” or “Nigger” applied to people of colour. People’s beliefs do change over time; our attitude towards slavery, for example, and Christians have on occasions slaughtered Jewish people believing that they were doing the will of God.
I wonder whether there will be a further development? Will we begin to extend our ideas about “All people matter” to include “All primates”, then perhaps “All mammals” and maybe it won’t be long before we start to believe that shooting grouse for pleasure is also wrong. I stayed in the house of a potter recently where most of the mugs and plates bore the inscription “The future is Vegan”, and I do believe that this is the only future that makes sense. Nearly two thirds (by weight) of all animals in the world are domestic animals bred for food (and another one third are people). The Earth can’t sustain this level of intensive farming, but my eating habits lag far behind this belief, I still enjoy the odd sausage.
Judging from the Gospels, Jesus considered all people important, especially the poor, invisible ones; Jesus changed his mind about his mission and wrestled with himself when he really did not want to do what he thought was right. If we intend to become more Jesus-shaped in our lives, we could do worse than to start here; let’s examine our mission.