Sunday, August 14, 2011

Who we eat with & why it so important

This morning's gospel is one of those texts that offers listeners numerous opportunities to reflect upon. For example, a person can focus on Jesus' denouncement of ancient Jewish purity codes. He obviously wasn't as concerned with public health issues as the Pharisees but he accurately describes where the root of human evil resides, in a person's selfish, destructive, and degrading vices. Certainly, one could also seek to unpack the basis for Jesus' rude treatment of the Syrophoenician/Canaanite women. Pastor and homiletics professor Barbara K. Lundblad properly states that ... "We’ll do almost anything to make Jesus who we want him to be. But Matthew doesn’t clean up this story. Matthew dares to give us a very human Jesus and he paints a specific picture of this woman. She is a Canaanite woman. She is not one of Jesus’ people."

The point that I became most interested with was (is) the multiple nuances around the term "Canaanite." Canaanites were the polytheistic religious inhabitants of the Levant region prior to the Israelites arrival in the land. Tyre was a cosmopolitan seaport were the Canaanites (Phoenicians) prospered and traded a variety of goods and services with people from all over the Mediterranean Basin, including a unique and costly purple Canaanite cloth. The woman that impacts Jesus' understanding of his mission to redeem humanity is much more complex than a simple peasant woman with a sick daughter. She is conceptually and practically much more dynamic than that imagery. She represents a historical group of people as well as a urban, socioeconomic individual who is vastly different than the Torah observant disciples traveling with Jesus. Her "line of work" may or may not have been suspect.

I mention all of these facts because it's apparent that the people we encounter who differ from us potentially offer the most profound and life-changing lessons for our consideration. It's tough to travel to a different place or neighborhood and comfortably interact with people. It's even more awkward when food is involved. Eating is such a life-giving human behavior and humans have inculcated all sorts of eating rituals and morals. Nonetheless, it's very easy to assume that our way of doing things, including the construction of our theologies regarding God and our "neighbors" are right when we only possess our comprehension of such doctrines and disciplines. We become much more entrenched in our ways of thinking and being when our experience is the only one that we know. Matthew literally has to move Jesus and his disciples out of Galilee and into Canaan in order to get this point across. The question for us remains, will we allow ourselves to be similarly moved.

It's become clear to me in just a couple of days that Cincinnati, is a city of neighborhoods. It's a terrific place to drive around and enjoy. I look forward to meeting people and eating food in Over The Rhine, Wyoming, and Clifton. I'm very much still a visitor. I don't know all of the various cultural nuances in this place. I'm however confident that people who live in one of these neighborhoods may not be familiar with some of the cultural particularities of people who live in another neighborhood less than 10 miles away. Apparently, mistakenly calling a "West-sider" an "East-sider" can be very detrimental to one's career or well being. It's interesting to think about how such rivalries have tormented and degraded relationships between people and groups of differing religious faiths.

The Canaanite Woman instructs Jesus and us that we can expand our perceptions of God and our own purpose a great deal when we are willing to take risks by eating and associating with someone who doesn't come from our neighborhood. We can also be a "change-agent" for others when we invite the Holy Spirit to offer the gifts of kindness, patience, and compassion that exist in our hearts. These are the Spirit's gifts which are best represented by a Christ-centered approach to life that offers communion that is invitational rather than conflictual. It's also important to remember that words often mean more than they seem, especially when they are not our own to define.

Blessings Along The Way,

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