The Gospel for this Sunday (Matt 15:21-28) is one of the most uncomfortable readings in the Bible. This is not how we like to think about Jesus. It almost (almost?) looks like He is being mean to a woman who is desperate. If I didn’t know this story was in the Gospels, and someone told me Jesus had done this, I’m sure I would have said no, it is not possible.
And yet, here it is.
I haven’t gotten completely comfortable with it (and maybe that’s not the goal), but I do have some thoughts. I think it is helpful to see the larger context of the Gospel first being offered to the Israelites (Jews), and then to Gentile (non-Jews, in this case Greeks/Hellenists). One of the themes in the Gospels is those who should be the most open were closed tight, and some of the Gentiles were very open (like the story of the centurion’s servant Mat 8:5-:13). This lead to some tension in the early Church (see Acts 6:1 and Romans 10 and 11). Romans goes into detail about how they fit in, and neither side should be looking down on the other. The parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20: 1-16) talks about those who came late being made equal to those who have been serving since the beginning, and I suggest this is about the relationship between Jews and Greeks.
Let’s look at the larger narrative. Matthew 13: 54-58 shows Jesus being rejected by His home town of Nazareth. Chapter 14 we meet Herod (son of the guy who caused so much trouble in chapter 2, a story that echoed Pharaoh’s slaughter of the innocent in Exodus 1. The death of John the Baptist foreshadows the death of Jesus, the new Passover Lamb. Jesus feeds the 5000 in Jewish territory, and there are 12 baskets of fragments gathered, a symbol of the gathering of the 12 tribes of Israel. (Echo of the Passover and foreshadowing of the Last Supper). Then Jesus walks on water (doing Moses and the Red Sea one better). Then, we see the Scribes and Pharisees who insist on doing things their way rather than God’s way. Notice this section starts and ends with those who should be the most open are the most closed.
Jesus goes to Gentile territory. Now we meet the Canaanite woman and she demonstrates her faith. Those who demand things their way don’t do well. Those who recognize they are not entitled to anything do very well.
Jesus now feeds 4000 in Gentile territory, and there are seven baskets left over. This reflects the gathering of the seven Gentile nations: Hittites, Girgashites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites (Deuteronomy 7:1).
Chapter 16 shows the Pharisees demanding a sign (once again, they want things done their way. They don’t get it. Jesus tells the disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which is their teaching (See also Mark 8:14-21 ad Luke 12:1)). Leaven as a sign of sinfulness is also in 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, and he says, “Clear out the old yeast, so that you may become a fresh batch of dough, inasmuch as you are unleavened, for our Pascal Lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed (v. 7).” In Jewish practice, there is a ritual for clearing all the leaven out of the house in preparation for Passover.
This brings me to John. In the Gospel of John we see three Passover times (2:13; 6:4; and 13:1). In the first there is the cleaning of the temple and miraculous wine. In the second there is miraculous bread and walking on water. In the third Jesus becomes the Passover Lamb. To fit this pattern, it suggests that the cleaning of the temple reflects the clearing out of the old leaven.
Perhaps Jesus testing the Canaanite woman was clearing out of spiritual leaven to draw her into the Pascal mystery. I don’t know if this makes sense, but I hope you enjoyed the ride.
Blessings, Fr. Jim
Tuesday, Aug 18, 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the passing of the 19th Amendment that safeguarded the right of women to vote in the United States. I say Christians should care about this for three reasons:
- It is a human rights issue. Christians are called to have a concern for all the legitimate rights of all people.
- It is a stewardship issue. God gives everyone gifts, and we need to bring forward everyone’s gifts, including their wisdom and their voices.
- If we want to bring about societal change (who thinks we need to change some things?) it can be useful to look at how it has been done successfully in the past.
The women’s suffrage movement began in 1848 at a convention at Seneca Falls, New York. It was organized by Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton (Susan B. Anthony would join the movement in 1851). It was supported by Fredrick Douglass from the beginning, and there was a lot of connection between the anti-slavery movement and the women’s suffrage movement. Let us not forget that this concern was present in our country from the beginning. I have read that Abigail Adams, confidant and counsellor to her husband John (and every bit his equal in intellect and will) pushed him to further the rights of women in moving the country forward.
There is an interesting movie called “Iron Jawed Angels” about the last few years of the suffrage movement (warning: not family friendly!) and a small book about the same period called “Founding Sisters” by Eleanor Clift. We meet some interesting characters: the brilliant strategist Alice Paul, the standard bearer Inez Millholland (who literally gave her last bit of strength for the movement), and the driving force Carrie Chapman Catt. I do not want to forget Ida B. Wells (or Ida Wells-Barnett), a journalist who also was a crusader again lynching and other issues. There are, of course too many important names to do justice to them all.
Notice that the movement began in 1840 and did not succeed until 1920. Making important changes in our society is a marathon, not a sprint. Many people get enthusiastic about a cause, get involved, but when they don’t see rapid progress right away, the passion cools, and they go on to other things. It is my observation that if we want to do real good, we shall have to work harder than we thought for longer than we expected to accomplish less than we hoped. The prize belongs to those who do not then give up.
They were careful and clever about how they did things. If I understand the history correctly, they were willing to go to jail for their cause, but they did not recklessly disobey laws. They did not act like the rightness of their cause was license to ignore the rights of others. There were powerful people who opposed them, and they were not going to give anyone excuses to shut them down.
I get the sense they were clear and pretty consistent in their messages. The movement, of course had many people who disagreed about strategy, but they were disciplined in their voice to the world.
There is an organization called Feminists for Life (feministsforlife.org) that is a pro-life group. They say that “women deserve better than abortion” and they have quoted a lot of the early women’s rights advocates condemning abortion. If I understand the history correctly, it was later, when a few well-placed people persuaded key women’s rights advocates that equality included the ability to imitate the most sexually irresponsible men, that defending abortion became so connected with women’s rights. Not all women bought it, however, and many desperately regret the philosophy that brought it about. Many have said it has facilitated the exploitation of women. This is a discussion for another blog.
The work to make our country more faithful to its founding principles for all people continues in our time. How will history remember us?
This is a call “Into the Breach.”
This is a call to all Catholic men. Our families need you. Our Church needs you. Our country needs you. This is a call to accept and exercise our manhood in the fullest and best sense. This is a call to the rising up of men for all that is dear to us, for this is a time of crisis.
The phrase “into the breach” is from Shakespeare, but first I want to mention a very important man who “stood in the breach” and saved a nation.
“They forgot the God who was their savior, who had done such great things in Egypt, such wonders in the land of Ham, such awesome deeds at the Red Sea. For this he said he would destroy them, but Moses, the man he had chosen, stood in the breach before him, to turn back his anger from destruction (Psalm 106:21-23).” See Exodus 32:11-14
And now, Shakespeare:
“King Henry: Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more; Or close the wall up with our English dead. In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man as modest stillness and humility; but when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger; stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood…” Henry the Fifth Act 3, scene 1.
This is a call to battle, and we are being called to battle, but we must understand we are not now talking about guns or bombs.
“For, although we are in the flesh, we do not battle according to the flesh, for the weapons of our battle are not of flesh bet are enormously powerful, capable of destroying fortresses. We destroy arguments and every pretension raising itself against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive in obedience to Christ… (2Corinthian 10:3-6).”
“Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything to hold your ground. So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace. In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:10-17).”
These are calls to battle, but not with physical weapons. There might be times we would have to use physical force to defend against unjust aggressors, but that is not how the big battle will be won. These short videos are about what it means to be a Catholic man, the kind of man that our loved ones need to go into the breach.
I challenge you to watch these, think about them. Think of one new thought they made you think. If you can, think of one new action they inspire you to do. Now share that with five other men?
Will you accept that challenge?