Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Fresh Look at Matthew: Matthew 15:21 and following


This is one of those accounts that we might want to ask Jesus about when we get to heaven.  “Jesus, what are you saying?  You are calling her a little dog?” which is still, despite our love of dogs in this culture, a base insult, especially for a woman.  And maybe he is calling her that, despite all the commentaries that want to explain it away. 

Maybe it’s a test to see how much faith she has.  Maybe.  What is odd is that he says he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, and elsewhere he says differently.  It would seem the whole thing is a rhetorical exercise to elicit a response from here, rather than a real expression of who he is.  But that makes no sense either if we present Jesus as a truth teller.  Can he mislead people to get deeper into their souls and then say truth?

Of course, we say, no.  Bible Gateway says it’s a test to be sure this Gentile doesn’t think he’s another magician, and that rabbis did such tests.  She is a Canaanite and they are located at that moment in Tyre and Sidon, which for Matthew’s audience carries a lot of connotations.  I don’t like explaining away texts, but at the same time the full meaning has to be explicated.  Any cross-cultural moment does

Either way, the story of the Syro-Phoenician women is a problematic, enigmatic story, but it shows the gospel writers (a) weren’t concerned about public relations and just putting Jesus in the best light, (b) were more concerned about reporting truthful accounts.  However, in the end Jesus commends her (and in my memory, he commends all Gentiles he meets except Pontius Pilate, and even then he’s not that hard on him).  The virtue he commends is faith, not the ability to point so aspects of the law one has followed (as the rich young ruler). Faith and love are the great commandments, the great requirements. 

Was he being racist?  What really is racism anyway?  It has become a convenient word for the left to throw around.
Still this story obviously  bugs me; I spent three or four days on it to create this one post.  My Bible version’s study notes says that the story is a shift or turning point between ministry to Jews and to Gentiles, and that is also ties into the previous encounter with the Pharisees over the defilement issue.  The Canaanite woman’s references to break and crumbs go along with the feeding themes before and after. 

So we come to the second feeding miracle.  It’s not a weird repeat, as a skeptic would say.  The stories are similar with subtle differences.  First, the disciples came to him and asked that they be sent away.  This time Jesus more directly say, “Feed them.”  You would think they would say, “OK, do that thing you do again,” but they don’t.  Either they are really dense or just don’t believe. 
Either we are really dense or just don’t believe. 

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