Sunday, August 14, 2005

Best In Show

Matthew 15:21-28

I had never found much to like in this text before – why would Jesus first refuse to help, then insult, this Canaanite woman? – but I think I started to see something in it today. What’s important is the relationship, unique in the Gospels, between this Gentile woman and Jesus at his most Jewish. Because when he dismisses her, she challenges him, and he responds. This is the only time in the Gospels that a dialogue opponent of Jesus’ gets the last word, gets him to change his mind. So there is a powerful opposition taking place between as it were the orthodox synagogue and the Gentiles who demand a place at God’s table. Note the Old Testament and Epistle parallels: Isaiah prophecies of a time when foreigners will worship alongside Israelites in the temple, and St. Paul describes God’s mysterious plan in first electing Israel to be the chosen people and then imprisoning them in temporary disobedience to give the Gentiles an opportunity to enter into the covenant. It’s clear from these texts that the relationship between Jew and Gentile in God’s plan of salvation is from a human perspective uncertain. Did God choose to establish the covenant with Israel only as a preparatory measure? From a Christian perspective, what does it mean for God’s covenant with Israel to remain unbroken? In the exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, whose perspective has priority? The woman doesn’t correct Jesus’ harsh insult, rather, she finds a deeper meaning in it (no easy task when one is being insulted!) If the Gentiles are dogs rather than children, our place at the table must rely on grace rather than birth-right, humility rather than privilege. On the one hand, Jesus’ rebuke stings as it must to all who by birth fall outside of the community of God’s chosen people. Yet in his finally comforting words – "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish," all of those born outside of the covenant, strangers and aliens to God by birth, may take heart.


st.edith=shorthispanic said...

Mr. Weazoe,

I like your analysis of this v. difficult passage of Scripture from Sunday's reading. I also noticed that it is one of the few times Jesus finds "faith" in anyone. He is always grumbling about everyone's lack of faith - and in this "dog" of a Gentile, a woman, no less, he finds a keeper=one who he finds faithful! Her boldness is equal to that of Abraham who wagers with God on behalf of Sodom & Gomorrah: & his faith was reckoned to him as righteousness, afterall!

weazoe said...

Yes, I believe you're on to something in regards to this text. It's very much the same type of double reversal found in the Abraham stories, maybe even in Job? The "set-up" is the authority figure (God in the OT, Jesus in the NT) seeming unfair and being put to the test. There's a delight in the idea that an authority we thought was infallible is suddenly subject to a challenge from an unlikely source. In fact, eureka, I had been looking for a political parallel to this text and I can't believe that I overlooked it! Please see my next post for details.