I was preparing to leave for class when I suddenly remembered I had the homily for the 8:30 am Morning Prayers, and I hadn’t written anything yet. As I stood in my office, panic setting in, I grabbed my notebook, and a book on the interpretation of scripture and ran out the door. I am fortunate, blessed even, in that I ride a bus from my home to the University of Seattle and that was all the time I had to write the homily, a 30 minute ride, but somehow a door opened for me as I rode in that day. Here is what I offered November 8th at Morning Prayers.
A STORY OF OPENINGS
The Canaanite Woman’s Faith
21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just 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.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the
children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is a story opening doors not a story of how rude Jesus could be. We can compare Matthew to the other three Gospels and Paul all we want but Matthew could care less about the other four writer’s audiences. Matthew is talking to, writing to, a Jewish community and one more than likely in crisis. And, because of the makeup of his community (we could say his social analysis) we need to ask what door he is opening.
In Matthew’s community the salvation Jesus offered came first and foremost to the Jew, but something is happening in this community that causes him (or her, we don’t know the author of this Gospel), in this story, to open the door to the Gentiles. We do not know what that was, we can speculate but that is all it would be. What I find interesting is how the cracked door may speak to us, today, in the 21st century.
So we have this woman doubly, maybe triply, taboo for Jesus, a Rabbi, to speak to in public. Rabbis didn’t speak to women, most certainly not to Gentile a woman and probably not to a married woman. But this woman, a Gentile, approaches in an attitude of prayer and Jesus relents, telling her she
has “great faith.” “Snick,” the door of salvation just opened to the “other.”
Two thousand years have passed since Matthew wrote those words and in all those years many still haven’t opened wide the door to the other. Matthew is telling us today, just as he told his community that faith without action, without social justice is an unfulfilled faith. We all have individuals we would avoid, after all Jesus was avoiding the religious authorities by going into Gentile territory. But Matthew was telling his community, and us, that Jesus and God have a plan for the “others” in our lives, just as God has one for us.
How much will it take to open wide the door? How much will it take to let the
others in not just into our presence, but into our hearts?
Ruth Jewell, ©November 8, 2011