Persistent Truths

Persistent Truths

dscf0030_2.jpgI've been thinking of a woman who came to Jesus for help (Matthew 15: 21-28). Here is someone in trouble. Her daughter is tormented by a demon. But the problem is she is a Gentile, specifically Syrophoenician in origin... a Caananite. This story presents Jesus as somewhat ethnocentric. His world is narrow, focused only on the Jews. His mission appears clear to him: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." He will not help her. "The food belongs to the children," Jesus says, "and not the dogs!" I admire the woman for her tenacity. Or maybe it is just desperation. Her daughter needs help and she won't leave without a fight. She's the persistent mother. While she shows him respect, calling him "Lord", she argues with him: "Yes, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master's table!" She is not intimidated, but instead shows a rather presumptuous self-confidence that I find refreshing. This passage has been of interest among many New Testament scholars because it shows Jesus possibly being outwitted by a foreign woman. Does this passage advance the Gentile mission or embarrass it? What does this mean for women in the early church? I don't believe it's helpful to explain the obvious difficulty of this passage with explanations such as, "He didn't mean 'dog' but 'puppy'." Or that he was knowingly leading the woman to a deeper expression of faith with his apparent indifference and even rudeness. Rather, I think this sheds light on Jesus learning obedience (Hebrews 5:8). The story begins with him possessing a rather fundamentalist mindset, but ends with him perhaps surprised that faith can be found in other than the people of God as he understood it ("Woman, great is your faith!"). I love this story because it exhibits his humanity... a man forced to come to terms with truth foreign to what he is already certain of. He has to adjust, or amend, his theology because of the arguments of this woman. Here, many scholars agree, is the seed of the early church's mission to the Gentiles. I believe that the problem today is not the different things we believe as much as it is the fundamentalist mindset that sets ourselves apart in an elitist fashion and excludes others. When we, even with sincerity and a sense of call, establish ourselves as right and refuse to admit others, this is what causes hatred, division and war. If we really want to be like Jesus, perhaps it means being less fundamental, less certain, less elitist, and a little more open and vulnerable. It might mean being willing to listen to the many ways truth may present itself to us. The fine art photograph is the creation of my UK friend Howard Nowlan

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