Scriptures: James 3:16 and Matthew 15:21-28
Thin, white candles flicker in our hands,
each lit by the person next to us.
A sea of light spreads
through the dark room.
my candle accompanies me as
I sit cross-legged on the floor, and
listen to the story of Mary of Magdala.
Mary of Magdala walks to the cemetery
to look for the love of her life,
who had died.
There, her Love calls her by name,
Something in her
comes alive, again,
Something in me
comes alive, again,
as I hear that story.
as I sit on the floor
with thousands of others (pre-pandemic)
in a monastery in Taize, France,
Disappointment floods me
as I think of friends,
who nurse fresh heartbreak;
of the world,
who had acted with violent
shootings once again.
Belief in a better life,
a better humanity,
eludes me at that moment.
I could hear someone knocking
on the dusty door of my heart.
It startles me:
I forgot that the Taize Monastery
celebrates the light of the resurrection
every Saturday at evening prayer.
I forgot that every Sunday
is considered a day of resurrection.
I forgot that I am a new creation.[i]
the promise of fiery passion
and newness captivates me.
What does it mean to be
a people of resurrection?
I wonder as I watch
a video of a striped caterpillar[ii]
hanging below a branch.
Slowly, the skin bulges
as a shell emerges:
first around the head,
to the abdomen,
and then to the tail.
Minutes pass as it wriggles up
and down, forming this soft shell,
which hardens into a chrysalis,
The video tells me that, inside,
“almost all of the caterpillar’s body
is dissolved into a kind of soup
that is remade into a butterfly.”
Butterflies bear little resemblance
to caterpillars: the cells form
a completely new matrix.
Yet, their composition
comes from the same cells,
This chrysalis time rivets me,
as the wormy creatures respond
to nudges to change and rearrange.
Now I wonder:
What nudges you to change?
Even Jesus received nudges.
Jesus models for us:
how to dissolve
In today’s text,
Jesus enters a foreign territory
where a woman pleads,
“Heir of the House of David,
have pity on me! My daughter
is horribly demon-possessed.”
In this plea, the Canaanite woman
could be claiming kinship with Jesus.[iii]
After all, in the Gospel of Matthew,
Jesus is the heir of the House of David
from the beginning of the Gospel,
where Matthew names Jesus’ ancestors.
Three of those ancestors
are Canaanite woman:
Rahab, Tamar and Ruth.
Today’s woman, and Jesus,
Jesus responds with silence.
No easy answer remains
to explain Jesus’ inaction.
The disciples simply say,
she is annoying;
tell her to leave.
Yet, the call for responsiveness persists.
“Have mercy on me!” she insists.
Jesus replies that this teacher is not ready;
their mission is still closer to home,
to comfort, to familiarity.
The woman blocks Jesus’ path,
lying on the ground.
Help, she repeats.
“It isn’t right to take the children’s food
and throw it to the dogs.”
Why does Jesus say this?
Is Jesus ridiculously parroting
the party line of the disciples
to illuminate its outrageousness?
Is Jesus wrestling with staying
small in sharing the Good News?
Is Jesus still coming into
Jesus’ ministerial voice?
Whatever the cause,
the woman cunningly objects, replying,
“Even the dogs get to eat the scraps
that fall from the table.”
In the words of writer Debie Thomas,[iv]
the Canaanite woman schools Jesus,
turning the slur right back at him,
cutting right into “the very heart of
Jesus’ boundary-breaking, taboo-busting,
of table fellowship.”
Jesus dines with prostitutes,
and breaks bread with tax collectors.
In Thomas’ words,
“The table is precisely where
Jesus shows the world who God is.”
And the table is precisely where
the other, the outsider, calls Jesus out.
As if to say, where is my Good News?
where is my place at the table?
When will your goodness be good enough
for me and my daughter?
Debie Thomas imagines stunned silence
in response to the woman’s words.
Their implications ricochet
through Jesus’ heart:
“If you are who say you are,
how can you be content while anyone goes
hungry in vicinity of your table?”
Thomas envisions the Canaanite woman pressing:
Good news is here, somewhere waiting.
You have it. Look harder. Push further.
Believe there is enough
Good news to go around.
Dissolve boundaries. Widen the table.
Preach your goodness to me.
Jesus, who never loses a verbal contest
to anyone else in scripture,
sits back in amazement
and celebrates the vision
of this audacious female,
“You have great faith!
Your wish will come to pass.”
Suddenly, I realize that
to be people of resurrection
is to be open to change,
open to reason.
It is to live in chrysalis time,
wiggling our way to new creation.
I witnessed this process several weeks ago,
when my friend, Brother Anthony,
a Capuchin Franciscan friar,
sent me a video[v]
of the class of newbie friars
receiving their habits, or brown tunics.
These brown tunics,
take the shape of the Greek letter Tau,
which is like a capital T, or a cross,
so that the brothers might remember daily
that they are dying to old ways of doing things
and rising to new choices and habits.
With a burning heart,
the novices don their new habit,
a bit awkwardly on video,
slipping it over their head,
wiggling it down,
winging their arms
through the sleeves,
until at last their face
Awed, I watch as
they prepare to give up everything—
their worldly possessions,
the prospect of romantic relationships,
the direction of their life—
in order to live as people of resurrection.
Tears sprung to my eyes.
I didn’t know why.
Amidst the pandemic,
my soul, too, had quarantined,
gathering cobwebs in its corner.
And just like that,
another knock on its door,
as these young men
amidst troubled times
till chose to give their all
to a rising love that
made them come alive
in a chrysalis time.
Like the Canaanite woman,
they had disturbed my peace
with a transforming dream.
I am a new creation.
You are a new creation.
A melting, reforming creation,
who has all the same cells of both
caterpillar and butterfly.
Jesus nudges, knocks, and needles us,
until we burn with metamorphosis,
opening wings as we fly with mercy
toward ourselves, others, and God.
[i] This phrase comes from 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ – new creation!”
[iii] Professor Mitzi J. Smith illuminates this point in her commentary on WorkingPreacher.com, found here: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4542 .
[iv] This section paraphrases Debie Thomas’ biblical commentary on JourneywithJesus.net, found here: https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/2716-is-it-good-news-yet
[v] Watch the investiture of the new class of Capuchin Franciscan friars here: https://www.facebook.com/TheCaperoneSLS/videos/224989131948564/