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Jesus as Learner - Saint James Church

Jesus as Learner

This week, James ended his sermon series on getting to know Jesus. The message was again centered on the humanity of Jesus. Specifically, James focused on Jesus as a learner. It’s a bit of a mind bender to consider that the God of the universe would have to learn anything. But the whole point of the sermon series has been that Jesus was fully divine AND fully human. And goodness knows, humans don’t come into the world knowing very much of anything. The Bible passage was one of the more uncomfortable ones for those of us who prefer an uncomplicated Jesus. It was the story of the gentile woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. He rebuffed her harshly saying that it would not be right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs. (In other words, his mission was not for the gentiles but for the Jews.) She retorted that even the dogs get the crumbs from the Master’s table. Upon hearing this, Jesus changed his mind and healed her daughter. As James pointed out, it appears the encounter opened Jesus’ eyes to something he had not previously considered. And faced with the new information, he adapted. In common parlance, he learned something!


Wow! It’s a doozy of a story and a doozy of a message. Let me start with the idea that Jesus was a learner. If the very Son of God didn’t think he had all the answers, why do so many of us think that we do? This is a serious question. So many of us think that we have it all figured out and are unwilling to listen to anyone else or to even learn from our mistakes. But how can God reach us if we are stuck in our own truth? We believe what we believe for any number of reasons. But how can God teach us God’s own truths if we hold on too tightly to our own? Do we automatically tune out any alternative voice as a sort of fake news if it doesn’t match with what we already think is true? Jesus thought he understood his mission. And he had no reason to listen to a gentile woman (who would have been quite low on the social totem pole) to get any insight on that mission. BUT HE DID!!! It’s hard to put that into contemporary terms that we might relate to. But imagine if Pope Francis decided to include Muslims in the mission of the Catholic Church because a worried Muslim mom told him that Muslims were God’s children too. It’s not a perfect analogy, but you get my drift. Such a thing is unthinkable. But not for Jesus.


Which makes me consider what exactly it was that enabled Jesus to learn in that situation. Given the deep divide in this country right now between those on the left and on the right, this seems particularly important. We don’t talk to each other, much less listen to each other. And I doubt anyone on either side thinks the other side has anything to teach them. But if we are all in this together, don’t we have to listen and learn from one another? Perhaps our togetherness is the first thing we have to learn. Even Jesus thought in terms of us and them until the gentile woman opened his mind to something else. Maybe we are driven by instinct and prodded by culture to think in such divisive terms and an important step on our spiritual journey is to see the world as having only one side, and that we are all on it. How do we learn this? How did Jesus learn it? I don’t know. But it is interesting that Jesus didn’t change his mind because an older and respected Jewish rabbi made a logical argument with evidence to back it up. Rather, he was moved by an emotional appeal by a desperate mother. Perhaps it was her deep love, raw honesty, and profound suffering that broke through. Like the kids protesting across America for the end of violence in schools, there is a purity about that sort of message that is hard to ignore. Perhaps the key to our learning then is to open ourselves up to other people’s pain and emotions. We can’t be afraid of them or look down on them or try to keep them under control. Maybe our keenest moments for enlightenment come from accepting what others feel, and as importantly, what we feel ourselves. After all, it is in those emotions that we find our common humanity, and maybe it is also where God finds us.


In closing, Jesus was indeed fully human and as such he learned and changed as all of us are capable of learning and changing. His example is that we really don’t have all the answers. And that sometimes new truths are found in the stories of those around us. We just have to be willing to listen. Our human emotions unite us if we are willing to acknowledge them.

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