Contributed by Aaron Matson, Toronto, SD
To what groups do you belong? What makes you a part of those groups? What are the symbols or signs of belonging to those groups or any characteristics members of those groups share?
Us and Them
The ancient philosopher Aristotle once argued that “Man is a political animal.” He meant that we humans tend to form groups, and groups of groups, and even cities (the Greek word polis means “city”) and civilizations. The Biblical witness seems to affirm this observation. In Genesis, at creation, God gives Adam companions, because “it is not right for man to be alone;” first animals and then a female to be an equal partner, Eve.
Groups are good, they offer protection, support, belonging, and order. Faith is meant to be lived in community. Sure, individuals make up communities, but Christians in the Bible are always with others who are believers too.
Yet, groups are not always good. When they become exclusive or jealous and become “us and them,” they turn from good to bad. It can start as innocently as a hurtful word and can escalate to the use of weapons. When large groups turn bad there can even be war and genocide.
How do you know whether a group is good or not? What characteristics does it have or lack? How do you know what to look for?
Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, September 9, 2012 (20th Sunday After Pentecost)
(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)
For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.
The Syrophoenician Woman is part of a group that you don’t usually see at church. She isn’t really accepted by the regular folks. If she belonged to your congregation, she would be the type of person who might come to church, but you’d never see her reading the lessons, helping serve communion, or attending a bible study. Those activities are for the “good” people who do things right. She is not one of those women. She doesn’t have the right skin tone or the right upbringing to really be a part of the “good” crowd of the church.
Jesus is part of a different group. He is a Jew. He’s come to save the Jews. He hasn’t come to take care of this woman, and in his eyes he doesn’t need to be concerned with her. She’s not the reason he’s in Tyre. She’s merely an annoying whining woman who won’t leave him alone. She is a woman who doesn’t understand her place. She shouldn’t even be speaking to him in this place in this way.
In reaction to the woman’s plea for Jesus to heal her daughter of the demon Jesus responds by letting her know that he doesn’t need to heal her daughter. He hasn’t come to save people like her and her daughter. Then the woman comes back at him with a statement he can’t refuse. She gets him to realize he might not have come for her, but even people like her get the leftovers of his teaching, healing, and saving work.
Jesus realizes she is speaking the truth. He says that her daughter is made well and she can leave. Jesus’ mind is opened by the words of a woman so different from him that he was ready to deny her daughter healing, but a desperate mother calls him back to his senses and her daughter is healed.
This encounter is hard to hear. Jesus doesn’t just take care of the need he needs to be called out. He needs to be confronted.
- What situation in your life makes you so desperate you’d be willing to enter a place you weren’t invited to plead for someone you love?
- Who do you feel is so different from you that you’d ignore their needs when you could give them what they need without it costing you anything?
- How do you react to what seems like very harsh words from Jesus to the woman in the lesson? How does this story affect your image of Jesus?
- Look up the word “dog” to see how it is used throughout the Bible.
- Research what life would’ve been like for a Gentile woman in the world of today’s text.
- Invite a Jewish friend to talk about their faith life.
- Go through a newspaper and see how many examples you can find of conflict rooted in group identity which excludes those of another group. Discuss what it would take to break down the barriers separating the groups.
Gracious Lord, there are times when we feel alienated from you, bring us close to your love every single day. There are times when we feel so different from those around us that we turn our back when we could offer a hand in help. As the Syrophoenicain woman turned you to heal her daughter, jolt us out of our complacency, expand our vision, and turn us toward all our neighbors. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.