(To the kind souls who fear that Sunday’s five minute sermon will put me in meta data land, let me inform you that ASIO already has a file on me and this will simply add to it)
This passage of scripture is for me one of the most important and most misunderstood passages in the bible. How widely misunderstood can be gauged by the fact that two of my patron saints miss the point. Bill Loader sees it in terms of Jesus learning a lesson of life. Nathan Nettleton speaks of Jesus being a product of his environment and having a bad day. I beg to differ with both of them on the grounds that they have breached a fundamental tenet of reading the scriptures: no text without a context. What is the context here? It is the disciples, the slow learning dopey disciples. What a bunch of twits they were – just as I believe we are today!
Let me explain. The woman in the story is identified as a “Canaanite” – one of the indigenous people whom Israel had conquered and taken their land on the basis that it was given to them by God. Canaan was the “promised land” for which Abraham set out, and Moses looked over, and which was conquered in battle.
This is the background in which the Canaanite woman comes asking help from Jesus and saying “Son of David, have pity of me”. David, of course, was the hero and high water mark of Israel. When the Canaanite woman says “Son of David” centuries of history are laid on the table. And here comes the context: The woman comes and says “Son of David have pity on me” and we read “Jesus said not a word in reply”. Jesus said nothing!
But the disciples, the dopey disciples, had plenty to say. “Send her away, they said!” Why? Because she was a Canaanite and as such was of no concern of Jesus. She wasn’t one of the chosen race. She wasn’t of the House of God. She wasn’t “a child of God”. She was a gentile. She was a foreigner. She was a heathen, one outside the grace of God to the extent of being less than human. She was to all intents and purposes an animal. Even today in the Middle East the words “dogs” is used as a racial and religious epithet. This was the basis on which the disciples said “Send her away”. And then, in this context we are told “Jesus replied”. We are not told to whom he replied. I would submit that he replied to both his disciples and the woman, for such is the context. Both the woman and the disciples are within his gaze when Jesus, bitterly disappointed with his dopey disciples, highlights the issue. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs?” “I was not sent to any except the House of David?”
The disciples are silent. The Canaanite woman is not. “Surely the dogs can eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table”. It was repartee of the highest order, repartee that raised the whole issue of race and nationality. It is a scene that is vividly in my mind’s eye: Jesus smiling at the woman’s reply. “How right you are! How right you are! It is God’s universal love that I am on about, a love that goes beyond nationality, race and patriotism.” From an indigenous person comes a universal truth! The only sad thing on the scene are the dopey disciples. What a bunch of twits they were to think that race and nationalism and patriotism were of importance.
Last week, with newspaper articles and TV drama, we started the eight month pilgrimage to Anzac Cove, to the so called “birth of a nation”, the waving of flags and the singing of “I am, you are, we are Australian”. What arrant nonsense! The nation of Australia was not founded on the invasion of Turkey and the battlefield of Gallipoli. It was founded on the battlefields of this land, the subjection of the indigenous people by imperial Britain, and in the name of God.
The tragedy of our day is that patriotism, racism and national pride are still very much with us. The Canaanite woman still confronts the dopey disciples of Jesus, and Jesus still weeps over Jerusalem, and over Australia, with the words “If only you knew the way of peace, but you do not!”
What a dopey bunch of twits we are!