Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hear Jesus' Words at the Table (1)

What would mean for us to hear Jesus whispering "You have great faith,"
every time we receive Holy Communion 
From there, Jesus went to the regions of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from those territories came out and shouted, “Show me mercy, Son of David. My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.” But he didn’t respond to her at all. His disciples came and urged him, “Send her away; she keeps shouting out after us.” Jesus replied, “I’ve been sent only to the lost sheep, the people of Israel.” But she knelt before him and said, “Lord, help me.” He replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord. But even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall off their masters’ table.” Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith. It will be just as you wish.” And right then her daughter was healed. Matt.15: 22-28 (CEB) 

We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under thy table... Prayer of Humble Access. United Methodist Book of Worship p. 49

The story of Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman is referenced in The Service of Word and Table IV. The old liturgy actually diverges from the story from Matthew. Because the wit and courage of this unnamed woman, Jesus actually learns something new about his ministry, ends up commending her faith, and grants her petition, the intercessory- healing of her daughter.

In essence, Jesus pronounces her worthy to do more than eat the crumbs fallen from his table! In healing her daughter, Jesus breaks the generational trauma of being a Canaanite and the powerlessness of being a woman and daughter. Because Jesus heals by his word and the faith of a third party, this episode brings to mind the healing of the Centurion's servant, from which more Table words are drawn.

The story of the Canaanites is cited in Native American theology as a parallel to the annihilation of an indigenous people and their culture, whose symbols and story are pushed far to the margins. The Canaanites are first mentioned in Genesis as their land is covenanted by Yahweh to Abraham and his descendants. According to the story, descendants of the Canaanites must have still been present, at least symbolically, in Jesus' ministry. Their gods and culture was enemy to ancient Israel. How can this foreigner - a woman- be recipient of God's grace?

This event is witnessing that, along with a daughter's demon possession, generations of trauma and panic is healed in the ministry of Jesus Christ. Psychotherapists who treat panic disorders and PTSD will describe the disease like a demon possession, where fear of panic keeps us from freely choosing our possibilities. We become almost sub- human and far less than "in God's image." 

As much I admire the story, there are days when I feel worthless- or "unworthy" of God's attention and healing. Perhaps that "worm" theology is reinforced again and again in the old Methodist Prayer of Humble Access, I don't know. But, in the end, "worm theology" often leads us away from true humility and honesty, transparency, and authenticity about who we are, and where we really need healing.

No, we cannot forget -or change- the past. But we can choose to be healed by the opportunities and gifts God brings into our lives, all our lives. For example, we can forgive and let go of settling the score- even though we cannot change what happened.  We can choose to see others who wronged us with compassion for their own  struggles and demons.

Maybe we can instead focus on the words of Jesus, "You have great faith." Because there's nothing about history we can change, we might as well work for what is possible, and what is life- giving, here and now.

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