Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"God Bothering"

[Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon]. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 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' table." Then Jesus answered her, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed instantly. 
Matthew 15: 10-28

Dear Friends,

“God bothering:” that’s what Rumpole author John Mortimer cynically called prayer. But the term almost seems apropos in this colloquy between the Canaanite woman and Jesus. She’s a nudge. She won’t take no for an answer. In response, I think Christ is “messing with her head.” He knows where he wants to go with this dialogue. He knows the lesson he wants to teach. He knows how very far he has to bring his chosen people.

Jesus is the embodiment of the new covenant, preaching to the faithful of the old covenant. Their image of God is tribal and vengeful. Their relationship with God is shaped by ritualistic adherence to regulations governing virtually every aspect of life. Among those regulations is a prohibition against speaking with an unrelated woman and a codified contempt for gentiles.

Jesus breaches both rules by engaging the Canaanite woman. And here is a point contested by theologians for years. Was this the human nature of Jesus, raised within the strictures of his people, reflexively dismissive and then won over by the woman’s persistent faith? Or was it the divine nature of Jesus, preaching to a wider audience, dramatizing the coming of the new covenant?

Whatever the interpretation, the results are the same. Christ hears and answers her prayer. And more significantly, he opens the door of salvation a little wider, engaging more and different people than envisioned by Abraham, Isaac and Moses. The faith of the Canaanite woman is part of a continuum of converted outsiders and outcasts along with the Roman centurion, the Samaritan, the woman taken in adultery, the lepers… appropriately, all documented by Matthew, the contemptible collector of taxes

Obviously this is a gospel about the power of prayer. But beyond that, it is a gospel of God’s love available for the asking to every single one of his children --- every tribe, every race, every hue, every sex, every sexual orientation, the young, the old, the saints and the sinners, the lowly and the exalted.

Lord, help me. It says it all, both to God and to ourselves. It acknowledges our total dependence on God – our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. Our loving God invites you and me to “bother” him anytime, anywhere, anyhow.

Faithfully yours in Christ’s love,

The Reverend David F. Sellery, Rector

Portrait of a young woman in the 3rd century Egyptian Coptic manner, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54474 [retrieved August 9, 2011].

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