Thursday, August 14, 2008

feeding dogs

Readings for the 20th Sunday of the Year, Sunday August 17th 2008 Genesis 45:1-15 (or Isaiah 56:1, 6-8;) Psalm 133 (or Psalm 67) ; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28

Does Jesus struggle with prejudice?
I grew up in a community which had a lot of prejudices near the surface.
By and large we had no contact with people of different racial background
(There weren't any )
English people were always disrespectful fo the Irish,
and as an Anglican we held a firm suspicion of Roman Catholics.
These prejudices, and others, can be and, most likely, are part of any person's upbringing

When we encounter Jesus in the Scripture we naturally bring a lot of baggage to that encounter!
I would maintain, for example, that we almost always want to show him in a good light
This is to be expected
he is the hero after all.
He is, we would say the Saviour, the Messiah, the Son of God.
So it is difficult to paint him in other than bold, heroic strokes.

We do then have to deal with the fact that in the Gospel passage
for today (Matthew 15: (10-20), 21-28 ),
Jesus would at least appear to be rude.
Some how we don't like that.
Particularly those of us who are of British stock
seem to regard impoliteness
as the unforgiveable sin!
A lot of commentary spends a lot of time
trying to excuse the fact that Jesus seems to speak disrespectfully
(even the fact that I say seems to speak disrespectfully) shows that I am guilty of this too!
But Jesus says to this woman when she asks him to heal her daughter
that the food of the children should not be thrown to the dogs

But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me."
He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."
She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters'

It is difficult to not hear that he is calling this woman and her daughter dogs!
If I made this sort of comment in a pastoral encounter , I feel sure a complaint would be (rightly) upheld
Yet we say things like...Jesus wasn't really being rude, he was testing her
or that this is playful banter
(One pastoral rule I know is that you don't engage in such banter with people who are stressed out by sickness)
Or the other day we were being told that one commentator says this is a clever play on words,
because the word dog is linked to the word for worship.
I personally think that is a stretch.
What we must not miss is that Jesus has to engage with his humanity just as we have to.
If all we ever say about Jesus is that every human action he commits
is done perefctly and without struggle
then we are rather missing the point
that struggling with prejudice, carelessness, language
is actually part of what it means to be human.

Here we see Jesus struggling with the prejudice that he had grown up with since his childhood
Canaanites were for Jews pagans, Gentiles and beyond the pale,
Jesus would have known they were referred to by everyone in Nazareth as 'dogs'.
Here we see at least that this struggle is there for Jesus
as it is for us.
Part of what it means to be human
is that we have to engage with both the dark and light side of our character.
To do any less with Jesus
is to not take his humanity seriously.

This story also shows us that, as distasteful as our prejudices may be,
we do not have to stay locked in them.
Indeed, must not.

Can we see here an invitation to transcend our own narrowness and bigotry

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