From the 2011 ForeWords Archive:
There are at least three compelling images rambling around in my head right now, each competing to take the lead in giving flesh and bones to this week’s lectionary scriptures.
Number 1: British youth on the rampage in London and other UK cities, looting for no other apparent reason than there’s “free stuff” for the taking–for anybody willing to smash some windows and set fire to buildings. I don’t know enough about the deeper issues involved, but it seems that it’s at least in part about people who just don’t fit into normative society. And I wouldn’t be too surprised if the Conservative government’s austerity measures had a fair bit to do with it, too.
Number 2: Here in the USA politicians are drawing proverbial lines in the sand, taking pledges to support rigid political/philosophical points of view no matter what, even if it should mean wrecking the national economy. In the end it will mean additional pain and suffering for those least able to deal with it: the poor, the disadvantaged, minorities, immigrants (both documented and undocumented), and that huge and growing group I’ll simply sum up as those who live day by day, paycheck to paycheck, afraid even one minor personal/family crisis will push them over the brink.
Number 3: I saw the movie “The Help” on Wednesday afternoon. My wife had read the book and couldn’t wait to see how it would be adapted for the big screen. This is probably the first time I’ve ever seen a movie on its opening day. As the credits began scrolling at movie’s end, the large audience broke out in spontaneous and enthusiastic applause. It was a difficult movie to watch, I’ll admit. I found myself at several points in the movie quite defensively thinking that although I’m a white man, I’m not at all responsible for the kind of overt and subtle racism, bigotry, and just plain stupidity that kept happening before my eyes. You see, my family is not only not Southern, but being Canadian we were far removed from any kind of responsibility for–much less participation or co-option in–Jim Crow America. But I could never quite completely persuade myself of all that.
This week we read first what the psalmist has to say in this very short psalm:
How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity! It is like the precious oil on the head, running down upon the beard, on the beard of Aaron, running down over the collar of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion. For there the Lord ordained his blessing, life forevermore. –Psalm 133
The Gospel writer Matthew shares a difficult passage about a Canaanite woman who seeks out Jesus, asking for mercy for her sick daughter. What makes this scripture selection challenging is Jesus’ initial response: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). Wow, that line could easily have come from the deeply racist white folks in “The Help”! Fortunately, the Canaanite woman (rather like the black maids in 1960s Jackson, Mississippi), refused to accept that response: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Ouch.
Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Remember the plaintive plea from Rodney King a few years back: “Why can’t we all just get along?” Why indeed!
Yet we don’t, and not only that but we keep inventing new ways to disagree and to target the other person as not only different but wholly wrong and possibly evil. Our society is getting harder and meaner with each passing year. Politics is no longer about compromise but out-and-out warfare. One commentator recently claimed that large segments of the Republican Party don’t just dislike President Obama; they simply cannot accept the legitimacy of any Democratic President.
Obviously there is little if any actual listening going on these days. Without listening there is no hope of understanding. Lacking understanding, there is constant turmoil.
If I had the answer to our present political and societal discord I’d offer it free of charge. But I don’t. Perhaps one key can be found in the response of that Canaanite woman who refused to accept “no” as a final answer (as well as Jesus’ condescending attitude). For that she was commended for her faith. She knew what was right and what her daughter needed–and didn’t give up. On the surface that might appear to be “drawing a line in the sand,” but I think there’s a significant difference. Her actions were prompted by a parent’s love for her child. In so many ways we keep coming back to love: Love God and love your neighbor; that is the essence of the law. That is our only hope for the future, as well.