Today Glynn Holland-Leam explores the readings for the day in the context of the relationship of faith.
In the readings today we have a weaving together of themes from the Old and New Testaments through the Gospel. In the continued story of Joseph we see relationships reconciled, healing, and the continued growth of the covenant. In the reading from Romans, we see Paul’s understanding of how the gentiles become a part of covenant relation to god in a different way from the Jewish covenant. In the gospel both of these are brought together in a story of and outsider who challenges Jesus, seeking healing for her daughter and in this leap of faith the vision of Christ’s mission opens wide. But to get there we have to overhear a difficult conversation that can be troubling, and so warrants deeper examination and meditation.
To approach the gospel reading today, I want to begin by telling you a story of a father and a son. Now the gender of the parent and child in this story aren’t what’s important, rather it is their relationship. When the son was a kid, they had gotten along famously, and were extremely close. They spent a great deal of time together and liked many of the same things, cheering the footy team on of a Sunday afternoon, going fishing… well, going somewhere to sit holding fishing rods catching nothing. They loved each other. Something more extraordinary is that the father in this story was his stepfather and had decided that despite not having been there at the start, he was going to be a father to this kid, someone they could rely on.
The inclusion of gentiles in the kingdom of God, in the mission of Jesus, seems to us a given. We have been, some of us from childhood, soaked in the scripture and tradition of a church that has seen all of humanity as being offered the promise of Christ for nearly two millennia. But this wasn’t always the case. The first followers of Jesus were his disciples and they were born into the theological soil of first century Judaism, into a faith awaiting a messiah they understood as coming to lead Israel into resurgence. So when the Canaanite woman approaches all they see is an outsider. Someone who in their minds is barely peripheral to the work of the one they have begun to understand as messiah, someone who represents a historical foe. Dismissively, they ask Jesus to send her away, her pleas are bothering them, we then hear Jesus seem to affirm their understanding of the task of the messiah.
Despite more than likely sensing the wall being put up between them, this woman is spurred on by her love of her daughter and her trust that in Jesus, healing is possible. “Lord,” she says, “help me.”
In response to this Jesus says to her that doing this would be like taking a child’s food and giving to the dogs.
This is the hard part.
And this is where we will return to the story of the father and son.
Their once close relationship began to drift apart as the son got older. The son’s interests broadened and changed and he was no longer quite as interested in doing the same things they had always done. Fishing got boring. Other things got a lot more interesting, and as he became an adult and started to get a feel for what he wanted to do… It just wasn’t the type of work the father had spent his life doing. More than this though, to the sons frustration whenever he tried to approach his father as an adult, seeking recognition of his growing maturity, his father wouldn’t offer it. He was still in his heart committed to his son, he just couldn’t let go of the little kid to see the young man.
This continued for a time, and the distance pained them both.
One day during a family get together, the two ended up in awkward conversation, you know the type – just passing the time until it’s not rude to make an exit to get a refill or a bite. But then, in a moment remembering the relationship that once was, the son took a step to seek that recognition he had always wanted. The son did this trusting in the love of their relationship, despite having drifted apart for some time, they knew that the one thing they needed, just the small act of recognition, would be enough spur their relationship into a new life of closeness and healing. He spoke plainly and sought an answer to why his father couldn’t see him as the man he was…
..and the father opened up, spoke of his own worry and hurt and how he’d let it get in the way of seeing his son as the man he’d become. How he was worried he’d mucked up and lost his place as father.
In that moment of faith, both of them found recognition, healing, and a relationship renewed.
We don’t know what Jesus was thinking in this gospel reading, what kind of dog he was really talking about, in other places we get explanations of a parable or a narration of the purpose of an action. But here – here all we get are his words, and her response. The Canaanite women turns back to Jesus and shows a level of recognition of his mission rare in the gospels, for she says to him that the power of God is so great, the banquet of the kingdom of god so plentiful, that even a crumb is enough to entirely transform a moment and create healing where there is pain and struggle, that he is Lord and she needs him, her daughter needs him. She steps into a sea of uncertainty with faith, and Jesus sees her. Jesus recognises her, recognises her faith, and heals her daughter.
Jesus has promised us that wherever he finds faith, he will be present, even if it’s where he least expects it.
He tells us we can trust in him, in God, and he will be there.