Bombs and explosives, killer vans and forest fires, mudslides and floods, gangs and cartels. Jails that are overflowing and churches that are near-empty. TV images of people running for their lives. What’s going on? Who’s in charge? Has hope abandoned our world?
The gospel stories and parables wrestle with the meaning of life and the discovery of hope. There’s the story of Jesus being accosted by a woman who belonged to a tribe of Canaanites that were the ancient enemies of Israel. Jews often referred to them as ‘dogs.’
She was in a desperate state. Without a husband to take care of her, she had a daughter who was tormented by a demon, and was beside herself in her helplessness. For survival she needed the girl to be healed and somehow she felt this strange Jesus person could do the job.
In the middle of the story is a beautiful moment of silence. She makes her request with much shouting and, the gospel says,’he did not answer her a word.’ Jesus was silent. It wasn’t the only time Jesus was silent with people.
He wrote on the earth in silence when they dragged before him a woman caught in adultery. His silence undid the passion of the lynching mob. Like the suffering servant of Isaiah he opened not his mouth when he was before Pilate. Was his not answering the Canaanite woman the silence of listening and discovery?
His listening to her was rooted in his silent listening to his Father. Was something new germinating in his mind? William Butler Yeats wrote, ‘Like a long-legged fly upon the stream/ His mind moves upon silence’ (Long Legged Fly).
Was his understanding of his job description – to care for the lost sheep of the house of Israel – beginning to deepen and broaden? Canaanite dogs were to be part of the new kingdom of God. Sheep would feed with the dogs, and drink from the same well.
It takes time to be open with strangers. It’s a slow and gradual move from feeling vulnerable with a stranger to feeling a sense of welcome and a readiness to share It takes time to be open with strangers; to be comfortable with new accents, expectations and with faces that look different.
Where’s the way forward with the new questions that have arisen today? Dearth of ethics and accountability in high places that result in suspicion and lack of trust in big institutions. Growing inequalities in our country today. Complex bio-ethical questions that are new and strange. Immigration. The upcoming 8th amendment referendum in Ireland.
We need to learn to be silent and reflective so as to attend to these issues – to people in our midst who are different – to God’s word and the promise of the gospel.
The Canaanite woman had two things going for her: a need, the solution to which lay beyond her; and her boundless trust. These kinds of people even God cannot resist.
Fr. QQ 8/20/17