Reflection: August 20

Published on Aug 20th, 2017 by Rev. Carol Prochaska (Ret) | 0

Divinely Different. Divinely Loved.
             Scripture: Matthew 15:22-28  

As a child out in public with an adult, I can remember hearing the words: “Don’t stare.”

We were in the presence of a person, who in some way, was “different.” This whispered admonishment seemed to come under the heading of “good manners.” However, in this story we just heard about Jesus and the Canaanite woman, there is a word that could be loosely translated “stare!” In the Greek the word is “lo.” It is often translated “behold.” This time it is in the imperative! Do it! There are at least two bible translations that begin this story with the word “behold!” We are to see with our hearts.

Do we stare? Or do we to look away? The disciples repeatedly ask Jesus to get rid of someone who is asking for help. Jesus is silent. When he does speak it sounds blunt. He tells her he has been sent by God to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. Obviously this Canaanite woman is not one of them! When she pleads with Jesus, he insults her! Stare? Or look away?

Some of you will recognize the name of a late night TV host from South Africa – Trevor Noah. He has written a sad and funny and unnerving account of growing up in South Africa under apartheid. His book is titled: Born a Crime. Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and black South African mother. His birth was at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison. Among whites he wasn’t truly white. Among blacks he really wasn’t black. In his book he tells how just walking down the street he’d get suspicious looks. As part of his survival he became fluent in several of the eleven African languages. He was often asked “Where are you from?” That is, in whose house do you belong? In his book he explains:

I’d reply in whatever language they’d addressed me in, using the same accent that they used. There would be a brief moment of confusion, and the suspicious look would disappear, to be followed by [a verbal response] something like “Oh, okay. I thought you were a stranger. We’re good then.”  

Trevor writes: “I learned that the quickest way to bridge the race gap was through language.”

This brings us back to the Canaanite woman and Jesus. Shei first closes the gap with her reverence. She prostrates herself before him. She puts out her welcome mat. Secondly, she speaks Jesus’ language. Using his reasoning she makes the claim that both Gentiles (dogs)

and Jews (children) are under the same authority. She claims her place in God’s world – in a world where God’s welcome mat is out for “all nations, all peoples” (Psalm 67). She is not one of the lost sheep of Israel but she is one of God’s lost sheep to be included and loved and blessed. We can hear the admiration in Jesus’ words to her: “Woman, you have great faith! Your wish will come to pass.”

This Canaanite woman is the contemporary voice of those who are “different” – those who are not in ‘the house’ (whatever ‘that house’ might be). She is the face of outsiders looking for a welcome mat. I’m aware how sometimes I struggle to keep my mat out. Last week it was a grumpy receptionist. I spoke words I thought were gracious. The response was eye rolling and a reluctant mumble.

This past week much of the news has been very troubling — including that of white supremacists.

Apparently these kinds of groups are on the rise in Canada. Like you, I am sickened by their prejudice and their violent words and actions. I want them gathered up. I want them sent to a specially designed school where they can be taught other ways to live in this world. I am grateful for social media making them known in a public way.

We know there are no quick and easy solutions. What do we do? It seems to me we can be informed. We can choose our words carefully. We can speak truth. We can support those who work towards justice. We can do whatever is in our power to bring about justice. We can make eye contact and small talk with strangers. We can listen without judgement to fears, even seemingly unreasonable fears. And we pray. And we listen for the leading of the Spirit.

White supremacists want the world to be homogenous. They have yet to see how our world survives on diversity—how our world thrives on diversity. And yes, they are afraid and angry, but we know their ways can never be endorsed or tolerated.

It seems to me we always need to hold onto our reverence for God, for the God in whose story we find ourselves over and over again, and for the God whose love no amount of evil has or can extinguish.

We need to keep our sense of humor. In this world there is much to cause us to wonder and to smile! So many things – like puppies and kittens and babies, like hummingbirds and peacocks and walruses … and like each other (each other in our differences).

When love stares, when loves beholds, there comes a revelation that here is something divine, something that is divinely different and divinely loved. Jesus changed his mind in his encounter with the Canaanite woman. As his followers we too must be ready to change our minds.

 I have a story to share with you that comes from a March edition of the Christian Century. It was written by a woman from Wisconsin whose name is Kay Ward. This is her story in her words.

I had boarded the plane and was settling in my seat when I heard voices from several rows behind me. The dialogue was emphatic and loud. The language they were speaking sounded foreign. Was the flight attendant aware? Were these two people plotting something? When we reached cruising altitude I couldn’t stand it anymore – I had to know what was going on. I stood up and moved down the aisle as if headed for the restroom. About five rows back was an elderly couple still speaking loudly and emphatically a Slavic language. They supplemented their conversation with hand gestures. Clearly both of them needed hearing aids. The woman had a scarf covering her gray hair, the man wore a black suit with a collarless white shirt that had seen more than its share of washings. They were holding hands and smiling.

In conclusion she says: “It’s so easy to misunderstand each other. I had prematurely decided that someone who was a stranger to me was my enemy.”

I conclude with words (the prayer) from the beginning of our worship service:

Lord, catch us off guard today. Surprise us with some moment of beauty or pain so that for at least a moment we may be startled into seeing that you are here in all your splendor, always and everywhere, barely hidden, beneath, beyond, within this life we breathe.”          (Frederick Buechner.)

 

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