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The New Joshua

• Greg Boyd

In this 4th installment of our Turning the Tables series, we examine how Jesus prophetically acts out a reinterpretation of a common Jewish racial understanding of the Kingdom of God. In both the interactions with the Roman centurion in Luke 7 as well as the woman (Canaanite descendant) in Matthew 15, Jesus reinterprets what it means to have faith in God and who the Kingdom is open to. The repercussions of this unequivocal ‘no’ to racism, and the hatred and de-humanization that accompany it, apply just as much to our 21st century culture in America as they did in 1st century Israel.


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Today we examine a couple more passages from the New Testament that people have tried to use over the years to qualify Jesus’s teaching on unequivocal non-violence and enemy love. The first of these passages involves a Roman centurion in Luke 7. In this passage Jesus praises the centurion’s faith that he could heal his servant, even from a long way off, just by saying the word. This passage is surprising given the Roman occupation and oppression of the Jewish people. Some folks throughout church history have appealed to Jesus’ silence on denouncing the centurion’s profession as approval of it. Given a similar situation happens with Peter in Cornelius’ household, some would say that in certain cases Jesus understands a necessity for violence, such as in defending and advancing one’s national agenda. A few thoughts are made in refuting this idea:

• Arguments based on silence are logically weak. We can’t base conclusions on what someone didn’t say, especially in case of Jesus on non-violence when He has so clearly taught in favor of it in all cases.

• As evidenced by Jesus hanging out with prostitutes and tax collectors so often, Jesus didn’t go around judging and criticizing peoples’ life styles. He wasn’t ashamed of being called their friend and put love in front of appearance or reputation. Jesus knew that encountering the living God changes a person from the inside out so He didn’t have a habit of calling out people like the centurion.

• Jesus ministered to people right where they were at and trusted in the power of self-sacrificial love and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to bring about life change.

• We are called to be imitators of Jesus, so if the perfect sinless Son of God didn’t walk around judging and condemning others, neither should we. For those that haven’t invited us to speak in to their life, we’re to have one thought about them – they have unsurpassable value and were worth Jesus dying for them.

The second passage is a little more complex to understand the point Jesus is making. It comes from Matthew 15 where Jesus encounters a woman in the land of Tyre and Sidon. As a descendant of the Canaanites it would have been very common Jewish practice to look down upon her and show extreme racism toward her people. When the woman asks Jesus for help with her demon possessed daughter His answer comes across cold, not compassionate, and at first glance racist. Knowing the Jesus is not a racist it requires a little more digging to understand the context of what Jesus was actually doing. A few key points help reinterpret a passage that at first sight seems to promote racism:

• The passage is intentional to call out Tyre and Sidon so reader would understand Jesus is addressing racially divided relationship with descendants of Canaanites

• Jesus response in calling her a “dog” would have been commonplace for Jews. Strange part is that he doesn’t rebuke the racist attitudes of His disciples or actually tell her to go away when she initially asks, He’s inviting more dialogue.

• Much like the choosing of the 12 disciples, John the Baptist baptizing in the Jordan river, or Jesus turning over the tables in the temple, this passage needs to be seen as prophetic theater demonstrating fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy, not as literal back and forth conversation.

• As the Old Testament Joshua had led his people across the Jordan River and in to the Promised Land, Jesus was identifying as the new Joshua as he went out and got baptized by John in the same river. The picture of Jesus full of peace coming out of the river and Holy Spirit descending as a dove contrasts original Joshua’s conquering with a sword. Jesus is the new Joshua.

• Jesus highlights the ugliness of the past Old Testament and reinterprets what God’s actual ideal is by prophetic theater in the river much the same as He does with this woman. The new Joshua, instead of slaughtering others, allows himself to be slaughtered out of love to create a way of peace for others.

• Jesus is testing the woman’s faith, but all along wants to show the ugliness of the racist way of thing contrasting that with his mercy and love for her

These are not just 1st century Israel issues. These issues of racism and hatred are alive and well in our 21st century culture. Racism and a general fear of “other” needs to be rooted out and can’t be ignored by the church. In the Kingdom of God we are an “us without a them.” Now is the time for the church to be the loving, self-sacrificial, others oriented people that Jesus called. We can become so individualistic that we don’t see the larger narrative we’ve been born in to. We all, especially those who have been in the historic majority of power, wealth, and influence, need to do what we can in the present to heal the wounds of the past. Anything that violates the worth of another is violence, and racism does just that. Our goal should be purge all forms of violence from our lives, and it starts between our ears and is carried out in our lifestyles.

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Topics: Guilt, Individualism, Non-Violence, Spiritual Warfare

Sermon Series: Turning the Tables

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Focus Scripture:

  • Matthew 15:21-28

    Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word.

    So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

    “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

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5 thoughts on “The New Joshua

  1. Kelly Miller says:

    Mary Magdalene was not a prostitute. There is no biblical evidence. http://www.uscatholic.org/articles/200806/who-framed-mary-magdalene-27585

  2. Zack says:

    You say here that Jesus didn’t comment on people’s sins (but rather allowed them to work out the implications on their own), but did he not say to the woman accused of being a prostitute, “Go and sin no more.”?

  3. Joann says:

    After listening to both this week sermon and last week’s, I feel like a lot of these “wounds” overlap. They are mixed together. And it would take a lifetime to identify and then to try to see them as Jesus sees them. It’s a constant daily chore and some days are better than other.

  4. Donald McKay says:

    We believe that the main reason Jesus didn’t even hint that the two centurions resign from the military is (same reason God’s prophet John the Baptist didn’t when soldiers came to him): we’re looking at two different kingdoms. Those in God’s Kingdom sacrificially love everyone regardless. Those in the kingdom of darkness – the world – understandably have a different purpose, with different means to accomplish them. The pre-Nicene followers of Jesus understood and taught what it means to love, and did what they could to live it out. Those in government or military service, when they converted to follow Jesus, DID leave their kingdom of darkness positions and forsook what went with that. The soldiers laid down their swords, etc, and were often martyred on the spot; government officials stepped down rather than retain their positions of authority. In Genesis 9, God Himself instituted capital punishment for capital crimes, and pointed out in the NT (Romans 13) that still the government “does not bear the sword in vain.” The governments of the kingdom of this world still have the mandate to execute certain criminals rather than providing free room and board and care for life. Justice is not a thing we must wait for, happening only at the feet of Judge Jesus in God’s eternal Kingdom. God has called us to judge among ourselves the more trivial matters, but He has not abolished or disparaged secular human governments – He ordained them. Karla Fay Tucker is a wonderful example: a vicious murderer, she gave herself totally to the Lord while on death row, appealed, lost her appeal, and joyfully faced her just execution. Win-win. To oppose God’s mandate for secular government to execute capital criminals – after graciously giving them a short space to repent – is to give the watching world more reason to believe that Christians have a perverse, if any, idea of justice.

  5. Julie says:

    I injustices of slavery are not all that needs apologizing for. The continued systematic financial, social and emotional tolls of Jim Crow & hidden denial of banking & governmental programs has continued to exists & complacency with them is the same as participation in them. I’m white & I believe not informing myself about these current day laws and practices is participating in a racist society. One apology doesn’t cut it. Read the Kerner Commission Report. Inform yourself about the courts & how many Black men are incarcerated. Please do not apppologize and think you are absolved.

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