10 Jesus called the crowd near and said to them, “Listen and understand. 11 It’s not what goes into the mouth that contaminates a person in God’s sight. It’s what comes out of the mouth that contaminates the person.” … 25 But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.”26 He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” (Matthew 15: 10-11, 25-26)
I have read dozens of articles, tweets, Facebook posts about last week’s protests in Virginia. Sean Patrick Hughes‘ This is Us blog post is excellent. David Brook’s Op-Ed, How to Roll Back Fanatacism is also outstanding. They both suggest that U.S. citizens, especially those of us who are white, are wrestling with the realities of our nation’s history and socio-economic/racial hierarchies. Brooks writes: “I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths.” (D. Brooks, Aug. 15, 2017, para. 7)
Many of us possess a culturally scripted and approved nature of life in America. We don’t like it when a black woman, a Latino child, an Asian Man, or a Native American teenager disturb us with facts about who is on top of the cultural pyramid in our country. Many people demand someone with more power, authority, and control to fix these inequalities or just leave us alone, NOW! Well – one way of taking on some responsibilities for the world we live in is to do something about it, beginning with ourselves. Both Ignatius of Loyola and St. Augustine are attributed with the ideal of praying as if everything depends upon God while acting as if everything depends upon us. Regardless, this principle resonates with an even older Greek ideal – God helps those who help themselves.
Closer to my spiritual home, The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop urges Episcopalians to act. Bishop Curry points to Jesus Christ’s loving example of moving through chaos toward becoming God’s Beloved Community. Bishop Curry says: “Through his way of love, he has shown us the way to be right and reconciled with each other as children of God, and as brothers and sisters. ” (M. Curry, Aug. 17, 2017, 2:00) He concludes with providing purposeful resources for Becoming Beloved Community Where You Are.
Walking toward justice is not privately praying for a solution. Walking toward racial/cultural reconciliation is not sitting in the couch and watching today’s protests and counter protests. Crap, being a member of Christ’s beloved Community is not writing this blogpost. Walking faithfully is interacting with people as Jesus did. Dare I say, Jesus learned something about practicing and repenting from racial discrimination himself.
Many Christians will not suggest that Jesus of Nazareth erred sinfully in his human life. Consider then his interaction with a Canaanite woman pleading for the well being of her demon-possessed daughter. The cultural backdrop for this setting is in Canaan, the land that the Israelites – Jesus’ ancestors entered and occupied. 1st Century Jews viewed Canaanites as idol-worshiping enemies. (I. Russell Jones, 2013). Male Jews who would have observed a Canaanite woman publicly seeking assistance from one of their religious leaders as culturally inappropriate. The Canaanite’s woman’s protest is out of bounds because she screams out loud in daylight for her daughter’s healing. Jesus’ first response – silence. His second response, following the woman’s desperate plea for help while kneeling before him is: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15: 25). Equating a Canaanite woman to a canine is equivalent to calling a contemporary woman a “dyke” or a “welfare queen” in our own day.
Parse that lack of hospitality on Jesus’ however you wish, theologically or otherwise. Dwell on the implications of God’s Son publicly pronouncing that God’s mercy is prejudicial and restricted. Thank God that the story doesn’t end there.
What is remarkable, more enlightening, and most transformative for Jesus and his immediate and contemporary disciples resides in the Canaanite Woman’s ultimate rhetorical reply.
“Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15: 27)
When does a protest become more than a display of public outrage? How does an overt statement of discrimination become the lever for life-giving compassion? What does an ultimate act of faith from a marginalized person who confronts courageously God and humanity mean. This scriptural encounter between God incarnate and a marginalized woman provides the impetus for us to continue praying even as we take further steps to live as God’s believers and doers of the The Word?
Brene Brown told Krista Tippett and their (Becoming Wise) listeners this objectively and idealistically true fact. “I can tell you as a researcher — 11,000 pieces of data — I cannot find a single example of courage, moral courage, spiritual courage, leadership courage, relational courage, I cannot find a single example of courage that was not born completely of vulnerability. We buy into some mythology about vulnerability being weakness and being gullibility and being frailty because it gives us permission not to do it.” (Brene’ Brown, March 18, 2016, para. 3)
The Canaanite Woman classically typifies such vulnerability. She’s willing to confront public shame and humiliation because the life of her daughter matters more than anything else. Consider how people of faith and their religious leader initially react to the Canaanite Women. Then, gaze upon Charlottesville and the millions of time before last weekend when marginalized people in our nation cry our for justice.
Open our hearts O Lord.
Contemplate the dozens of times we as people of faith remain silent, or bark back at people unlike us when they question our discriminatory habits and beliefs.
Kyrie Eleison (Lord have Mercy).
Protests are awesome when they transform people to confront the often unspoken and undesirable truths of our world. Protests often do not in and of themselves manifest transformation because such interactions frequently become violent and exacerbate more hatred. You and I can and should do something beyond protesting though. As Jesus did, we must offer mercy. Being Jesus’ disciples, we must proclaim the Gospel beyond worship and charitable acts. The Southern Law Poverty Center suggests that collaborate, creative, compassionate responses are numerous. The Center for Courage and Renewal provides resources for creating Circles of Trust. Episcopalians can connect with one another through dozens of racially re-conciliatory opportunities.
All of this work begins where we are, what we believe, who we interact with, and whether or not we possess the vulnerable, repentant, cognitive and spiritual hope to accomplish life as Jesus Christ did and commands us to do.
Blessings along The Way