Archive for the ‘Syro-Phoenician Woman’ Tag

Christ and the Syrophoenician Woman   Leave a comment

Above:  Jesus and the Woman of Canaan, by Michael Angelo Immenraet

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year 1

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, who seest the helpless misery of our fallen life;

vouchsafe unto us, we humbly beseech thee, both the outward and inward defense of thy guardian care;

that we may be shielded from the evils which assault the body,

and be kept pure from all thoughts that harm and pollute the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 148

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Isaiah 45:20-25

Psalm 32

Romans 2:1-10

Matthew 15:21-28

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Repentance is the theme of Lent, historically a time during which notorious sinners, penitent, prepared to return to the full fellowship of the church.  Changing one’s mind and turning one’s back on sins, barriers we erect between ourselves and God, is essential before one can deepen one’s relationship with God and grow into one’s potential in God.  The readings from Psalm 32 and Romans 2 cover that material more eloquently than I can paraphrase them.

Another theme in this week’s collection of pericopes is Gentiles worshiping the one true God.  We read about this in Isaiah 45 before we move along to the frequently misinterpreted story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28.

I realize that my orthodoxy resembles heresy to many in the Bible Belt of the United States.  (I live in the Bible Belt.)  I stand within the larger Christian tradition–one that embraces critical (in the highest meaning of that word) analysis of the Bible and that accepts both science and history.  My heroes include Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who said,

The Bible tells us the way to go to Heaven, not the way the heavens go.

I consider fossils, rock layers, and other scientific evidence, and understand that the universe and this planet are much older than six millennia, and that we human beings, in all our stages of evolution, are recent, in terms of geological time.  I cannot imagine a few million years.  Neither can I imagine many millions and billions of years.  I like to ask questions, especially those that prompt many fundamentalists and evangelicals to give me hard stares and become concerned about my salvation.  Nevertheless, I am fairly orthodox.

I, as an orthodox Christian, acknowledge the sinlessness of Jesus.  I also affirm that Jesus was fully human and fully divine, not God with skin on, without any humanity.  Furthermore, I read Matthew 15:21-28 not only in the context of the consensus of ancient ecumenical councils, but also in the context of the rest of Matthew 15 and of the Gospels as a whole.  He liked to dine with outcasts, notorious sinners, and other “bad company,” did he not?

Consider, O reader, that, in the narrative, Jesus had recently argued with some Pharisees and scribes in Jerusalem about ritual purity functioning as a distraction from moral responsibilities to relatives.  In that context, our Lord and Savior had decreed that what comes out of one’s mouth makes one’s defiled–common, as J. B. Phillips (1906-1982) translated the germane Greek verb.  To be pure was uncommon.  Impurity was ubiquitous; rituals for becoming ritually pure were also ubiquitous.

In narrative, Jesus then voluntarily withdrew to Gentile territory.  He was not trying to avoid Gentiles.  Our Lord and Savior’s seemingly harsh words to the Syrophoenician woman were not insults, and she did not change his mind.  No, Jesus tested her verbally; he wanted her to reply as she did.  Her answer pleased him.  I understand that “little bitch” (a literal translation from the Greek text) does not sound nice.  It is certainly rude when one intends to insult.  I argue, of course, that this was not the case in the story.

In the rest of Matthew 15 Jesus healed people before conducting another feeding of the multitude–4000 men, plus women and children–for the Gentiles.

…and they glorified the God of Israel.

–Matthew 15:31d, The New American Bible (1991)

I, standing in a tradition that dates to the Church Fathers, affirm that the full humanity and full divinity of Jesus meant, among other truths, that the incarnate Second Person of the Trinity did not know all that the pre-incarnate Second Person of the Trinity did.  This is an orthodox Christian position.  So is my interpretation of Matthew 15:21-28.

The Gospel of Matthew makes clear that Jesus was of Israel and that the proclamation of the message was first to Israel.  The Gospel of Matthew also includes the Great Commission (which includes Gentiles) in Chapter 28.

Jesus handled the Syrophoenician’s woman’s case better than his Apostles did; they wanted to send her away.  Christ commended her–a foreigner and a Gentile–for her faith and healed her daughter.

I wish that, in passages such as Matthew 15:21-28, the author had mentioned tones of voices, which can change the meaning of words.  Perhaps, if the author (“Matthew,” whoever he was; probably not the apostle) had done so, many generations of Christians would have avoided bad sermons on this pericope, as well as misinterpretations in commentaries and Sunday School lessons.

[Aside:  Today, March 24, 2020, I consulted N. T. Wright’s Lent for Everyone, Year A (2011), focused on the Gospel of Matthew.  Even he thought that Jesus was insulting the woman.  How did I, of all people, become more orthodox than N. T. Wright on a point of interpretation? (Start playing the theme to The Twilight Zone now.)]

All may come to God through Christ.  All need to repent.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in a balance only God understands; so be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 24, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSCAR ROMERO, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF SAN SALVADOR; AND THE MARTYRS OF EL SALVADOR, 1980-1992

THE FEAST OF SAINT DIDACUS JOSEPH OF CADIZ, CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF PAUL COUTURIER, APOSTLE OF CHRISTIAN UNITY

THE FEAST OF THOMAS ATTWOOD, “FATHER OF MODERN CHRISTIAN MUSIC”

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LEDDRA, BRITISH QUAKER MARTYR IN BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS BAY COLONY, 1661

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The Kingdom of God, Part VI   Leave a comment

Above:  Jesus and the Woman of Canaan, by Michael Angelo Immenraet

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Eighth (and Last) Sunday of the Season of God the Father, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty and everlasting God, who dost graciously give us the fruits of the earth in their season:

we offer thee humble and hearty thanks for these thy bounties,

beseeching thee to give us grace rightly to use them to thy glory and for the relief of those in need;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 128

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Jeremiah 23:5-6

James 4:1-10

Matthew 15:21-28

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I refer you, O reader, to the post for Proper 17, Year B (Humes) for my interpretation of the story of Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician Woman.

Jeremiah 23 condemns bad kings–shepherds, metaphorically.  In the ideal future, we read, the ideal Davidic monarch, called

The LORD is our Vindicator

or

The LORD is our righteousness,

will govern.

The kingdom of the world is not yer the fully-realized Kingdom of God.  In the Kingdom of God, the poor are blessed, the meek inherit the earth, the hungry are full, and those weep laugh.  In the Kingdom of God, categories that make us feel good about ourselves are meaningless.  In the Kingdom of God, supposed outsiders can be insiders, and visa versa.  In the Kingdom of God, the distinction between Jews and Gentiles does not exist.

May the Kingdom of God come.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF DURHAM; AND FENTON JOHN ANTHONY HORT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN HENRY BATEMAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHAN NORDAHL BRUN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, AUTHOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND RENEWER OF THE CHURCH; AND HIS GRANDSON, WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, U.S. ARCHITECT AND QUAKER PEACE ACTIVIST

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The Scandal of Grace VI   1 comment

Above:  Jesus and the Woman of Canaan, by Michael Angelo Immenraet

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Exodus 19:2-8 or 1 Kings 8:1-21

Psalm 56

2 Corinthians 13:5-14

Mark 7:24-37

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God exceeds our wildest imaginations.  Yet God pities us, heals us, calls us become more than we are, and empowers us to accomplish that purpose.  God calls us to be a people of priests.  God equips us to shine the divine light into the world of the nonevangelized and the apostate, and to disciple the converted.

You, O reader, almost certainly do not read these devotions in the same manner in which I do.  I know how much, contrary to my aversion to much repetition, I repeat myself.  I know how often I repeat myself in these posts based on different lectionaries.  I know that I have already repeated myself many times regarding the Gospel pericope for this Sunday as I repeat myself yet again–this time, regarding an ancient, supposedly orthodox hermeneutical tradition that is wrong because it violates the dogma of the perfection of Jesus.

At least since the time of St. Ephrem of Edessa (306/307-373), Jesus initially rejected the plea of the Syro-Phoenician woman heal her daughter, but the woman changed our Lord and Savior’s mind through her persistence .  This tradition has informed every analysis of the pericope I have read in commentaries and heard in sermons, regardless of how liberal or conservative they were.  St. Ephrem was orthodox, certainly according to the standards of his time.

That element of supposed orthodoxy is heretical.  (That charge means much coming from me, one who owns a shirt that reads, “heretic.”)  The thought of Jesus honestly calling he woman a “little bitch” (the closest translation in English) is one that runs afoul of sound Christology.

Jesus, who had purposefully entered Gentile territory, was testing the woman.  He was making comments so she would refute them.  He liked her answer, the one he wanted to hear.  Then he healed her child.

Sometimes we need to say something, to express our faith audibly.

God exceeds our wildest imaginations.  It welcomes and beckons those who are similar to us and those who have little in common with us.  If that makes us uncomfortable, we have a spiritual problem.  If we do, we need to take it to Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 24, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS À KEMPIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, PRIEST, AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN NEWTON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WALTER RAUSCHENBUSCH, U.S. BAPTIST MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN OF THE SOCIAL GOSPEL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS VINCENTIA GEROSA AND BARTHOLOMEA CAPITANIO, COFOUNDERS OF THE SISTERS OF CHARITY OF LOVERE

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/24/devotion-for-proper-17-year-b-humes/

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