Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Canaanite Woman's Dogged Faith (Sorry, I couldn't help myself...)

Matthew 15:21-28:

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just 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.” 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

According to the UN, it would take 30 billion dollars a year to launch the necessary agricultural programs to solve global food insecurity.

$30 billion a year to solve world hunger.

That may seem like a lot, but…

There are approximately 1 billion people suffering from hunger.

So, if we just spent thirty dollars for each person who suffers from hunger, we could feed them all for an entire year. Just thirty bucks a person.

According to CBS News, Americans spend about $35 billion a year on weight-loss products.

That means that if we all stopped spending our money trying to figure out how not to eat, and spent it enabling others to be able to eat, we’d solve world hunger.

See, people aren’t going hungry because there isn’t enough food. People are starving because the food isn’t getting to them.

Their cries aren’t being heard past the dollar menus, and the sub-prime lending, and the credit default swaps. Their voices are being drowned out by corn subsidies and Ipods and the Atkins Diet.

But you and I, we have Slim-Fast and Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem, and the Biggest Loser.

There’s enough food. It’s just not getting where it needs to go.

Grace, like food, suffers from a distribution problem, not a scarcity problem. And the Canaanite Woman understands this. She has a need. She knows that Jesus can fill this need. She knows that there is enough to go around. But how will she convince Jesus, an educated man, a Jew, a prophet, the Son of David, of this? She does this by using his language, his metaphors, and she shows him, and us, that there is plenty of grace to go around.

Jesus and the Disciples have just come from Nazareth, where they have encountered many who were on a kind of Grace-Diet, if you will. They don’t need forgiveness; they have purity laws. They don’t need healing; they have religious rituals. They don’t need what Jesus offers; they are doing just fine paying their taxes, doing what they’re told, and quietly going through the motions of what was once a rich, ancient, life-giving faith. They don’t need a radical and messy faith; they have Orthodoxy. They have rejected Jesus and the spiritual food that Jesus offers. His food is too rich, too powerful, too overwhelming, too real. Sure, they all wanted stuff from him, some fish and bread, maybe a cure for eczema, a change in the weather, some fancy magic tricks, but none of them want what he truly has to offer. He has been walking around longing for his people, his family, to know him, to accept the grace that he offers them, but all they want is what will satisfy them right now, what will make them comfortable, like those of us who want a thinner waist, or to hide our cellulite.

And so Jesus needs a break. He heads out for a mini-vacation, a retreat, some time alone.

And sure enough, here comes another one – a woman, a Canaanite woman, at that, demanding something else. And Jesus basically says, “I’ve got nothin’ else to give.” “I’m done.” “I’m tapped out.” “The kitchen is closed, we’ve run out of food. The shelves are empty; we’ve scraped the bottom of the pot. Pack up your stuff and go home.”

He reminds me of when I’m passing by a beggar on the sidewalk. I look straight ahead, ignoring his or her presence, or if I have to, I might mumble “sorry” when they ask if I’ve got any spare change. After all, I justify to myself, I’ve got my own kid to feed, my own bills to pay. I’ve got $100 in my bank account and I have groceries to buy and loans to pay, and the house to heat. I tell myself, I need to take care of my own first.

But this woman isn’t just sitting on the side of the road waiting for a little grace to bounce into her cup. She is relentlessly pursuing it. Not for herself, but for her daughter, for someone who truly needs it.

And she’s not gonna give up.

When it comes to getting what she needs, she doesn’t care that she’s a woman, addressing a man, surrounded by other men. When it comes to the healing of her daughter, she doesn’t care that she’s a Canaanite, not a Jew, addressing a group of Jews. When it comes down to the greatest desire and need of her heart, she is willing to be ignored, and then insulted. Her faith tells her to hold on a little longer, to accept whatever is thrown at her, for the sake of her daughter. This woman is not surprised by being called a dog – she expects it. She’s ready for it. Like a skilled debater, she is ready with a retort to Jesus’ insult.

And let’s not kid ourselves into thinking that Jesus wasn’t also a man of his time, place and culture. Jesus is insulting this woman. He calls her a dog, a typical derogatory term for Canaanites and other non-Jews. She is not at all shocked at her treatment. I think it’s fair to say that she’s been treated like this before. So she’s ready for it. She says, essentially, “Ok, fine, I’ll play your game, I’ll use your language, but I’m not going to leave until I get what I need.” Like a master apologist, she is ready to respond in order to get Jesus to heal her daughter. She says, “Sure, I’m a dog, but even the dogs get the crumbs. And crumbs are all I’m asking for. Crumbs are enough for me. Crumbs are plenty. Your crumbs will heal my daughter.”

See, her faith is one that understands the true economy of Grace. She understands that Grace is not a limited commodity. She knows that there is plenty to go around. God’s bank account doesn’t empty.

We are all starving for Grace, not because there isn’t enough, but because we aren’t seeing it, accepting it, embracing it, when it is right in front of us. There is plenty of Grace out there. Plenty for all of us. And the Canaanite woman understands this. And Jesus is astonished by her understanding. Can you hear his surprise in the text? Something inside Jesus has changed.

Jesus responds with even more Grace. More Grace by the healing of this woman’s daughter. More Grace by opening up his ministry to all, to Jews and Greeks, slaves and the free, males and females. From this point on throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus is clear and bold to say that God’s Grace encompasses all, and there is no end, even as he hangs on the cross, surrounded by criminals, mocked by those in authority, mourned by poor, powerless women. We are all one in Christ Jesus. After his encounter with this woman, Jesus explicitly and completely enters into a radical Grace, culminating after his resurrection when he invites us to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

This is a far cry from his command to his disciples in Chapter 10 to “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And it is a poor, powerless woman who bids Jesus beyond his cultural boundaries and into this abundant Grace.

This may seem shocking to us, this idea that Jesus was a man who used racial slurs and was tempted to ignore the needs of outsiders, that this Son of God was changed, was affected, was taught by an uneducated woman.

What do we do with a God who not only shows us God’s self through a changing Jesus, but also through the persistent cries, cunning argument, and shameless need of a woman cast to the side of the road?

What do we do with a God who calls us to remember that Grace is not a bank account? It’s not an economy. It’s not a limited resource like oil, or Big Macs, or facelifts or tummy tucks.

What do we do with the terrifying freedom of all this abundant Grace?

Grace, like food, suffers from a distribution problem. It’s a problem of our inability, or maybe our refusal, to see it, to see that it is right there, right in front of us, as easy as crumbs falling from the table.

Thanks be to God.

1 comment:

  1. Wow! This is the most awesomest heresy I've heard yet! Thanks be to God!