It was a tough week. The stock market on a roller coaster. 30 soldiers dead in one helicopter attack in AFghanistan. The famine continues in Somalia. London was afire with riots and looting. What makes this so tough is none of this is likely to get better anytime soon.
The Feds in announcing that interest rates will stay low for the next two years are as much as saying things arent going to be better for awhile. There is no exit strategy in Afghanistan that guarantees that our men and women will be home before another such massacre. A generation is dying in Somalia. And the trouble in London is symptomatic of more than young people stealing flat screen TVs.
And with Sunday’s sermon text of Matthew 15:21-28, it wasn’t an easy week to be a student of the gospel either. I dare to say if this were the only story we knew about Jesus, I wouldn’t be writing this blog and you would likely not be a follower. We can excuse Jesus’ behavior by saying his humanity was showing. But this is different than those other times when he was angry with the Pharisees or the money-changers or even when he was irritated by his disciples. This time Jesus seems to be denying compassion towards the very sort of person we expect him to help. This woman is one of the least of these, and Jesus comes across as racist and insensitive. It’s been said that a kneeling woman doesn’t have far to fall –– and yet Jesus manages to knock her down even further in public with an outrageous put-down.
In his book, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, Kenneth Bailey approaches this story as if Jesus was testing the woman and the disciples. Jesus pretends indifference, he sets a trap for the disciples — giving them permission to act out their prejudices. As the harshness of his words escalates, it’s a test for the woman to see how she will respond. Tit for tat with stinging insults of her own? Loudly expressing her anger towards people who attack her? Or will her love for her daughter, her faith in Jesus’ power to heal, her confidence that he does have compassion for her and others like her allow her the strength to absorb the insult and press on?
Woman, great is your faith, Jesus responds, and her daughter was healed. Instantly. It this was a contest, she won hands down,
There’s a lesson in this for us. (Yes, I say that every week) Jesus showed us once more this week that life is about how we respond. He teaches us with the example of this woman. She had been humbled. She had a concept of what is enough and doesn’t ask for more — even the crumbs, she says. She persists with personal sacrifice out of her love and compassion for another human being.
Humility. A sense of what is enough. Personal sacrifice.
These are tough concepts for us. As Westerners with individualistic tendencies, we are likely to be enamored with a philosophy of I think, therefore I am. To which an African theological response would be, I am, because we are.
The stories from Matthew these past 3 weeks have been about the disciples and how they responded to Jesus’ command to feed folks, to get out of the boat and take chances, and to persist with personal sacrifice for the good of others.
Despite our temptation to bury our heads in the sands of not knowing what’s going on in our world, that wasn’t Jesus’ way. Despite our knee-jerk reactions of name calling, blame placing, and hurling insults, Jesus teaches a better way and expects us to live it.
Jesus is expecting us to be out there changing the world.