In January 1974, I arrived in pre-cyclone Tracey Darwin having migrated from Papua New Guinea with my family. As a 9 year old, I quickly internalised the Anglo Australian community’s scapegoating stories of racial exclusion and deficit about the regional first nation’s peoples, the Larrakeyah nation.
My prepubescent prejudices were confronted after meeting an Aboriginal boy my age with a wide grin and a t-shirt with the caption ‘smile Jesus loves you’. I felt stinging shame and came to the recognition, that I, as a migrant, was also to a lesser extent a target of stories of deficit and exclusion. In the schoolyard, I was derisively asked where I came from, called wog boy and excluded from the games and rituals.
Today’s gospel presents the Pharisees peddling scapegoating stories of racial exclusion and deficit targeting Gentiles and codified in religious purity rituals, like washing hands before a meal. These rituals had nothing to do with hygiene and everything to do with exclusion and deficit. Too often, we, like the Pharisees fail to recognise our interconnectedness to each other. We all have a variation on scapegoating stories and rituals; whether it is the black sheep of the family, that annoying work colleague, LGBTIQ people, particular social groups or countries different to ‘us’.
Jesus confronts these Pharisaic distortions and reinforces the great inclusive Jewish story – that we are all chosen by God and interconnected, Jew and Gentile, through our personal morality – ‘what comes out of our hearts’ and, as prophesised by Jeremiah, ‘the law written on our hearts’. Evidencing universal connection via personal morality, psychologist Paul Bloom found that, independent of race and gender, human babies from 0-3 months appear to have a hard-wired sensitivity to fairness and reciprocity (Bloom. O (2013). Just Babies. The origins of good and evil. New York: Crown).
The Aboriginal boy, like Jesus is inviting us to examine our scapegoating stories and rituals of deficit and exclusion and to rediscover our fundamental interconnection with one another and recognise God in our neighbour. These truths are at the heart of a Christian practice of Reconciliation.