The Canaanite Woman

Preaching, Theology

I’ve started to avoid the internet. Because I’ve learned by now that Al Gore designed the internet specifically to ruin people with attention spans like mine. I’ve learned that if I want to get anything remotely productive done in a span of 8 to 12 hours, I need to seriously discipline the way that I dip into the electronic abyss. It’s usually 15 or 20 minutes after I’ve set up my invincible hedge of cyber protection that I remember that I actually need the internet for something. Like how to properly spell someone’s last name. Or a recipe to make use of, say, 20 pounds of zucchini. Half an hour later after I’ve been sucked into a neverending clickhole of cat videos, Buzzfeed lists and photographs of other people’s babies, (I’m looking at you, Clara Miller) I’ve entirely forgotten what I ever signed on for in the first place. Far more tech savy people than I have ways of selectively engaging their media to avoid this problem altogether, but I am not like this, I am the one on whom advertising works. This is why I avoid the petitioners outside of Powell’s. These people, and if you’re one of these people listening on our website now, I’m sorry, I have real sympathy for what you do, because you have to deal with people like me. Because I’m actually for Planned Parenthood, and clearly labeled GMOs, and a number of worthy causes, but when I actually see you there, standing in my path, saying hi to me pretending like you don’t want anything there’s actually this little red light of rage that clicks in the back of the mind that resents the fact that someone is standing in the middle of my sidewalk asking for a chunk of my quiet introverted walking time. The internet is no better, more sinister really, since we appear to be in control. The same pleas are there. Here’s a report of what’s happening in Gaza. Here’s a thoughtful article on race. Here’s a church nerd arguing for more traditional Marian devotion. Any number of things I could stop and pay attention to if I didn’t care about the fact that I have somewhere else to be.

The thing is, we’ve gotten good, culturally, at avoiding one another. The way we consume news media has become highly tailored to our biases and dispositions. Our elected leaders are good at avoiding people. This past week, the Governor of New York and several other congressmen from that area traveled to Israel to stand in solidarity with the state’s right to defend itself. When the Palestinian ambassador to the UN invited the New York delegation into occupied areas of the West Bank and East Jerusalem to listen to some of the stories of Palestinians there his offer was flatly declined. Or there’s the video of a certain presidential hopeful who was touring Iowa the week before that who literally spat the bite he was chewing out of his mouth and ran away from the diner table when a young woman approached him to talk about being a child of the Dream Act. And then there’s Ferguson, Missouri. What happened in Ferguson this week actually can’t be classified as avoidance, it’s more the the systematic state-sponsored oppression of opposing or inquiring viewpoints. Tear gas doesn’t lend itself well to dialogue. Neither does refusing to stay at the table to listen. Neither does closing a browser window when we think we’ve heard enough about a particular issue.

So there was this woman, a Canaanite, which is an ethnographic distinction in the Bible for the people who occupied the land before Israel did. In Hebrew scripture we find both exquisitely just legal provisions and prophetic calls for taking care of the Gentile stranger, as well as bloody war cries for seizing land from near-by peoples who do not worship the same God. Jesus, being a Jew, has a whole linguistic platform for his theology which is particular to his own ethno-religious background. What does he have to do with non-Jews? What can he do? They’re speaking about a different god. But this woman is attracted to Jesus. This woman is persistent in demanding his attention. This woman wants something. She wants her daughter to be well again, and she has heard of this man’s healing powers. She is so persistent that the disciples have not been able to shut her down, and like they did with the crowd of thousands, they ask Jesus to take care of it. The first thing Jesus gives her is at least the respect of saying no in person. Hi, yes, you see, we’re not really in the business of speaking with Canaanites, it’s a different language, a different way of looking at the world, I’m afraid it would get us too far off track, we want to keep our resources focused on the message at hand. It is unfair to take the children’s food, implying the children of Israel, and feed it to the dogs, apparently non-Jews such as the very woman speaking to him.

But then the woman drives home her point. She’s only looking for crumbs. I wish I could have seen the look on Jesus’ face. The poor guy has been slugged with these supposed supporters for week who seem determined to not get it. The walking on water, the needless fear about safety and a surplus of goods, the miracle of the bread and the fact that we have enough, that even the scraps were enough to fill seven baskets. And here is a woman who is asking for only that, scraps. Here is a woman who has the faith the disciples lack.

I cannot help but think so many others are simply asking us for crumbs when they are asking for our attention. When Missouri Highway Patrol Captain Ron Johnson was appointed the new chief of Fergusson’s police department one of his first actions on Thursday night was to walk in solidarity with the protesters peacefully demanding accountability for excessive force. Johnson’s installation as chief drew immediate criticism from the St. Louis county police department as a political publicity stunt from a state in deep trouble with national social media. And yet to see a uniformed black officer marching side by side with protesters seemed like such a simple, healing thing. And such a small thing. Such a crumb in the face of our tragic national history of institutionalized racism. Who else, then, is asking us for crumbs? Who are we avoiding who possesses faith enough to know that even the scraps can be collected to feed thousands?

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