Living Boldly, to Live a Normal Productive Life

Posted: August 12, 2020 in Uncategorized

Matthew 15:21-28

Living Boldly, to Live a Normal Productive Life

The Election campaigning has begun again. The three-year cycle is here again, The party politic is gearing up into competitive mode and the potential partisan mud-slinging is poised waiting its opportunity. Vote securing is the purpose of the rhetoric. And low and behold we might have Matthew’s story indulging us too.

We might want to deny that politics is not a gospel concern but truth be told one cannot extract politics from text just as one cannot extract context from text. This time we have the politics of some of the early Christianity movements, as heard in Matthew’s story, be it a risky one, which at some points has no other parallel in the rest of the New Testament.

We might back up just a little to put this story in context.

The world we know now is but the walls of limitation

Of you and me and those who love to team

There is no other scheme left to be

But universal love, from timeless dream

Waking to you and I where we be

There is our joy’s invitation.

Change was happening all around Matthew and his small Syrian ‘Jesus Movement’ community. The Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed. Judaism was beginning to be reshaped. A bloke called Paul was gaining both Jewish and ‘god-fearers’ converts to his personal “mystical experience” (Wilson 2008:126) Christ Movement.

The Movement as Matthew saw it, expressed in Peter’s then James’ leadership, was having battles on all fronts. And so with an early copy of what we call the Gospel of Mark in front of him, along with some other writings we now call The ‘Q’ Gospel, and maybe
even some comments out of Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Matthew sets out to tell his version of the story, some 50 years after the ‘new Moses’, called Jesus, and some 20+ years after Paul.

We walk around on carpets in conference

Of love at large with tree and flower and stream,

Of love within at risk of madness usurper

And list the Tui descant upon our theme,

Heaven’s musical accepted worshipper.

There is our peace in ponderance.

Internal political maneuverings were beginning to take shape. “One branch… aimed its evangelistic efforts at the Judean community in Palestine.  This branch was led by Peter, then later by [the other] James, the brother of Jesus.  Paul, on the other hand, understood his missionary work to be focused on pagans and gentiles” (Funk & Hoover 1993:204).

In the ‘fair dinkum’ department, Paul and Peter did not get on together! For instance, in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians, the mob of whom Paul says was “perverting the gospel of Christ” (Gal.1:7b), some scholars now suggest, was the Jewish Jesus Movement in Jerusalem. Secondly, Paul’s mission strategy was to visit Roman provincial capital cities
and approach the so-called in-between group, known as “god fearers”, who were pagans, not Jews, but who were attracted to some of the teachings of Judaism.

For Matthew as for his Syrian community in Antioch, this action by Paul was definitely seen as ‘poaching’.  And they resented it. On the other hand, there is also an underside to Matthew.

Matthew wasn’t too fussed about the ‘continuing’ Jews either, and that gets expressed in “undistilled anger and hostility” (Wilson 2008:194) towards Judaism, the Torah, and the Jewish leaders. So, the gospel we call Matthew is, simultaneously “the most ‘pro-Jewish’ gospel we have, as well as the most ‘anti-Jewish’ one.  The former aspect was evident in Matthew’s portrayal of Jesus as the new Moses…  The anti-Jewish side, however, comes out in his sustained attack on the Jewish leaders of his time” (Wilson 2008:182).

Perhaps theologian Bill Loader’s comments will help: “A sense that there is an enemy, marks many societies, religious and otherwise.  It is almost as though we need an enemy, another, against whom to define ourselves.  This need will sometimes sustain images of enemies, even create enemies for survival…  There’s ‘them’ and there’s ‘us’.  This is the stuff of prejudice.  Religion is (often) exploited to hold the prejudices in place” (Loader website)

The St David’s Khyber Pass Rd people experienced this first hand need for an enemy during the struggle for control of its decision making in regard to its old buildings. Those who wanted to memorialize the building needed an enemy against whom to mount a campaign and so they created an enemy by painting the congregation as demolitionists seeking to destroy heritage so as to gain sympathy and monetary support for their cause. A ‘them and us’ creation to define themselves against as saviour, protectors and worthy of support.

Our smile outfaces all illness and banishes the old feud

To things beyond and squashed in our truce;

With nature now dearly within us endued

And shame beyond the pondering excuse,

Frowns forgotten and antics subdued,

We kindly grow to be renewed.

Now to this morning’s ‘them’ and ‘us’ story.

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

Matthew’s story puts Jesus right in the middle of a very tense scene, which portrays Jesus expressing a racist stance, only to abandon it when put under pressure. To add complexity to the risks Matthew is taking, he does what we heard of last week and repeats the designation of ‘Canaanite’, it being a people not heard of for centuries, maybe to safeguard himself or Jesus or as a safe example for what is a them and us, racist story. Canaanites have been a race long ago in history and in fact a defeated race.

The ‘Gentile’ ‘Canaanite’ labeled, woman who was doing all the pestering, was from a group of despised, diminished and dispirited people, much evident in the society of the times. Unfortunately, in our day we too might have used disparaging words… like ‘weirdo’ or foreigner’ or ‘savage’ to describe her. When Matthew’s Jesus does make a response, he uses the word, ‘dogs’.

Again, Bill Loader offers a comment here: “It is hard not to draw the conclusion that [Matthew’s] Jesus… had to make a transition, had to learn” (Loader/web site, 2008). He too is part of the culture, his too are the concepts used to describe difference and he too needs to be aware of what he is saying and doing. So, lets look again at this story, this time as Rex Hunt suggests we might look at it around three issues.

First, this story doesn’t show Jesus in too gracious a light.

Traditionally we have been encouraged to think of Jesus as caring, compassionate, responding and sensitive. And there is not much of that here. We might ask Bill Loader’s question: “Is it embarrassing that Jesus was human, too?  Does it make the gospel any less valid if the historical Jesus also had to struggle to come to terms with the negative in his upbringing? (Loader/web site, 2008). Does he have to be perfect in order to bring hope, understanding and a new way of being?

Secondly, perhaps we can sympathise with Jesus.

The woman was determined to be heard – persisting, pestering, hanging in, bugging. All of us know or have persons like that we would like to avoid, evade. Sometimes we too will try anything not to have to be in their company. When people are desperate to improve or change their lot and get right into your face persistently they cab be hard to take. Does, this make us less human?

Thirdly, the heroine of this story is not Jesus, but the woman.

The persisting, pestering, hanging in, bugging, woman. As one commentator puts it: “The story reminds us that members of despised or oppressed groups must be bold in seeking relief of their misery.  The woman is not content to be ignored, because she is convinced her daughter deserves to be given a chance at living a normal, productive life.  Her persistence, based on her faith in a God who can change things for the better, is rewarded” (D Hare. Commentary on Matthew. Pg: 179. Quoted on B Stoffregen’s CrossMarks web site, 2008).

Perhaps this is why people seeking what we have will risk everything, and continue to try to find a better life, a more just way of living, a more just society? Even if it costs them everything. A student in training for ministry complained because she had to read Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus at Chapel, – all that ‘someone-begat-someone-else’ stuff. ‘What good is all this’, she moaned. Her New Testament professor responded: ‘This is a great story.  Because it shows the best can come out of the worst.  And the worst can come out of the best’. There is another way of looking at this.

Think about it! Perhaps this is also part of how we should ponder this story and our relationships with others, especially those who, are convinced their children, like ours, deserve to be given a chance, any chance, at living a normal, productive life. Maybe this is the tolerance needed for party politics, for competitive party-political campaigning? Listen for the voice seeking justice. Listen for the needs of people with no voice, or the voice that is marginalized, oppressed, hidden by the rhetoric. Amen.

Funk, R. W.; R. Hoover. 1993.  The Five Gospels. The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus. NY: New York. Macmillan.
Wilson, B. 2008.  How Jesus Became Christian. Canada: Toronto. Random House.

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