Friday, September 07, 2012

A Briefly Curved-in Jesus

I actually wrote an hour-long presentation under that name, which began with the story of a Gentile woman and Jesus, found in Mark 7 and Matthew 15.  The idea was to talk about welcome in our churches, specifically welcome of LGBTQ folks.  I spent a really long time talking about the passage, though, which is, for me, the most challenging text in the gospels.

In case you don't know the story, here's the brief recap:  Jesus is traveling up in Tyre, a big coastal region on the Mediterranean.  He goes into a house for a little quiet, but he can't get it; a woman follows him in.  She has a daughter with a demon, and she begs Jesus to cast it out.  Important detail:  "Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin."  (In Matthew she is called a "Canaanite woman," which doesn't change the meaning.)  At first, Jesus refuses to help her, saying “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  She responds that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs on the floor. 

There are so many things to say about this story.  There are so many ways to feel about this story.  There are  dozens of ways of reinterpreting the story to save Jesus from his humanness.  I've read them.  Here's one:  the word isn't really "dogs;" it's something more akin to "puppies."  I guess it's a little better to be called a "puppy" than a "dog."  I guess.

So here's what I'm thinking this morning, because I am postmodern enough to know that the space in which I read affects the text:  Jesus is human.  We proclaim that in the Creeds, and we talk about it at Christmastime especially (since our Lord being a "baby" is a little easier to take than him being a "man").  God became flesh and dwelt among us and every once in a while that fleshy human being did or said something dumb.

He wanted to be alone.  He was tired, having been followed through hill and vale and wilderness and lakeshore and into houses and up mountains.  He wanted a moment and he didn't get it and so he whined.  A moment of selfishness.  Been there.  Ooh, I have been there.  A few minutes ago, in fact.

It's a rare moment, and serves as the exception that proves a rule about Jesus, which is that he is not so selfish.  When the disciples wanted to send away the great hordes who followed Jesus so that they could all get something to eat, Jesus caused food to appear for all of them.  Then he got in a boat and crossed the lake, where people commenced to bring all of the sick people to him to be healed.

He healed them, because that's what he did.  He healed everyone who came, and he preached when he was weary to the bone.  He was Jesus, and that's what Jesus did.  He healed the sick and he proclaimed the kingdom and when he had given away his power and his voice, he laid down his life.

He did have a moment, up in Tyre--a very human moment, the sort of moment that people like me have all of the time.  He had a moment and then he bounced out of it and cured a Syrophoenician woman's daughter and doggone it, that's a really good lesson for all of us who give in to the tendency to be what the reformers referred to as incurvatus in se.  That phrase, attributed first to St. Augustine and used by Luther in his commentary on Romans, refers to the human tendency to be "curved in on ourselves," instead of out toward God and our neighbors.  For Augustine, it was a sign of original sin; for Luther, it spoke of our need for God's grace (no, those are not mutually exclusive--very good!).

It is so easy to turn in on ourselves.  It's easy for our needs to overtake the world's.  It's so easy to feel as if our troubles are insurmountable.  It's easy to check out, to crawl into a dark hole of despair and dare our friends and family to pull us out.  Sometimes we need that help, because our despair is chemically induced, and we simply can't manage it.

And sometimes we need to follow Jesus.  Wait...always we need to follow Jesus.  Sometimes we need to follow his example of being incurvatus ex se--curved out from ourselves and toward God and neighbor...even when we're not feeling it.  It might even wrench us away from the tendency to see our troubles as insurmountable, which they rarely are.