Weekly Reflection, March 23, 2017

Modern liberalism holds up broad-mindedness as an ideal.  Just now, though, we’re re-learning a perennial lesson, that it’s our particular loyalties to particular people, particular communities and their particular truths that give weight to our words and actions.  We can trust a person, we say, when we, and they, know where they’re coming from.

Think of Jesus’s encounter with an unnamed non-Jewish woman (Mark’s gospel says she’s Syro-Phoenician, Matthew’s that she’s Canaanite).  He rebuffs her plea for him to heal her sick daughter:  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel…It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  Her audacious response, and the depth of faith it evinces, changes his mind: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” Jesus answers, “Let it be done for you as you wish”, and it is.

Jesus is, in heart, body and mind, “of the tribe of Judah” and the “lineage of David”. It’s where he’s coming from, and he says so. Had this not been the case, had his tribal loyalty not defined him in this way, the woman – possessed of a loyalty even more specific, to her suffering daughter – would have found him untrustworthy and kept her distance.   As it is, though, each recognizes a kindred soul in the distinct, fierce loyalty of the other, and the Messiah’s mission to Jew and Gentile alike is born.

Broad-mindedness, understood as an ideal, crumbles quickly under the weight of the world’s divisions.  As the fruit of face-to-face encounter between distinct and specific loyalties, though, it carries real authority.

John Graham