That Woman

Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28 – The 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time – for Sunday, August 17, 2014

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27)

Christ and the Canaanite Woman - FLANDES  (c. 1500)
Christ and the Canaanite Woman – Flandes (c. 1500)

First, Jesus ignored the woman . . . But he did not answer her at all.

Then, Jesus claimed she wasn’t on his to-do list . . . I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Finally, Jesus insulted her . . . It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

The third time certainly wasn’t charming for the person known in Matthew as “the Canaanite woman.” According to Prince of Peace, the Lamb of God, the One who would become the Christ, she apparently was no better than a wayward mongrel, scrabbling for discarded food.

Usually, when I read these unnerving and stark verses, I admire the courage of the Gospel writer to show Jesus in an unflattering light. I am enthralled with Jesus’s change of mind. For here, in the middle of Matthew, there was odd evidence that flamed doubt about Jesus being “perfect.” Here, readers witnessed Jesus not as fully divine and fully human, but far from divine and frustratingly human. How fascinating to debate what this meant (and means) about Jesus, whether we’re in seminary diligently studying for the ministry, pulpiteering in a church with far from divine and frustrating humans, or cornered by a grumpy agnostic at a garage sale.

How ‘bout that irksome, insulting, irritating Jesus!

And yet today, in this next reading of a familiar passage, I’m not much interested in Jesus and his heartlessness or in his change of heart.

It’s that woman. Continue reading →

Front and Off Center

John 20:19-31 – First Sunday after Easter – for April 7, 2013

“A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them . . .” (John 20:26)

This is from the Gospel of Mark’s (3:13…) list of Jesus’ disciples:

Andrew
Bartholomew
James
James (son of Alphaeus)
John
Judas
Matthew
Peter (or Simon)
Philip
Simon (the Cananaean)
Thaddaeus
Thomas

For completely manipulative reasons, I put Mark’s list in alphabetical order. I’ll explain my manipulation later.

But, whether alphabetical or as written by any of the Gospels, name for name, Matthew (4:23…) agrees with Mark’s list. Luke (6:12…) apparently swaps Thaddaeus for Judas, son of James. The Gospel of John has no list.

Caravaggio's "The Incredulity of Saint Thomas" (1601-02)
Caravaggio’s “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas” (1601-02)

Of the above listed disciples, whom would you prefer to write an essay about?

Maybe Peter? He’s probably the best known. Judas, infamous, will forever intrigue people within or outside the Christian faith. If I wanted an essay to be blessedly brief, I’d finger Thaddaeus. Who? As noted, Luke’s list doesn’t include him. The only place Thaddaeus received recognition occurred in Mark and Matthew where he landed on their top twelve roll calls. Unless I concocted juicy stuff about Thaddaeus, my essay could be completed in a terse paragraph.

And then there’s Thomas. If only Mark, Matthew, and Luke were read, Thomas would be as familiar as Thaddaeus. Who?

But John’s Gospel puts Thomas front and center. Or maybe, it’s more correct to say John’s Gospel puts Thomas front and off center.

During many Easter seasons, in the Sunday after the resurrection is celebrated, when the lilies have wilted and the sanctuary’s less crowded, Thomas (from John 20:19-31) makes one of his pivotal appearances. And he does seem off center, for he alone—according to John—had not yet seen the risen Christ. Thomas will claim that unless he sees “the mark of the nail” in Jesus’ hands, he won’t believe.

The doubter. Doubting Thomas. Continue reading →