Because it’s that week in the lectionary (16th August) here are the pictures I’ve done for the gospel reading about Jesus’ encounter with the canaanites woman.
I finally declared this picture finished…
It’s the story of the Syro-Phonoecian (Canaanite) woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter (Matthew 15):
22Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.
She is a woman. She is foreign. She has a disabled/sick child. And she shouts. She’s a reject in pretty much every way. And she’s awesome.
In the painting I tried to do something different from my previous attempts at this story (which had focused on the ‘meeting of minds’ that Jesus and the woman reach by both stroking the hypothetical dog, but I was challenged to have a go at the moment of confrontation itself, which is much harder. So this is the moment when the woman grasps Jesus’ arm and makes him listen. She’s small, but mighty.
Here are some things I’ve tried to do in the painting:
- On the left, there’s a small gathering of Jesus’ disciples, but they’re a group of individuals. On the right everyone is presented relationally. The woman, by touching Jesus, draws him into the relationality of her family. This, for me, is a mirror image of the usual pattern in which Jesus draws outcasts into relationality (often by touch).
- The stones on the floor are a recurring theme in scripture. Here, they stand for stumbling blocks – the stumbling blocks that Jesus warned about (in Mark 9), the stumbling blocks that we must not put in the way of ‘any of these little ones’. The woman demonstrates to Jesus that her daughter is indeed one of the little ones that come within Jesus’ sphere of protection and love.
- The woman is dressed in blue because her confrontation with Jesus reminds me of the way that Mary, his mother, showed him that his time had indeed come, and that it was the right moment for him to perform his first miracle (John 2).
- The older lady on the right is grandma, and she’s looking after her other grandchildren so that the woman is free to go and confront Jesus.
- I’ve always assumed that there was an actual dog. Dogs can enable people who wouldn’t otherwise engage with one another to reach a place of understanding and generosity.
This is the rough gist of what I preached yesterday at Westcott. The text was Matthew 15.29-37.
There are many scriptural paradigms for what we do when we ‘do this’ in remembrance of Jesus, and each of them brings something distinct and valuable to the table, as it were. If we look only to the Last Supper, we miss out.
We can look at the parable banquets, with their slightly uneasy take on inclusion and exclusion; we can look to the barbeque on the beach and its focus on reconciliation and mission; we can look to the Emmaus Road and see the connection between understanding and recognition in the breaking open of the word and the breaking of bread; we can look to the other meals that Jesus shared – the hospitality of Martha and Mary, the prophetic action of the woman at the home of the Pharisee, the transformation of Zaccheus, and so many more that are not even recorded. Each of these stories brings something profound and vital to what we do when we share the bread and wine.
So what does this particular story – the feeding of the slightly less impressive four thousand – bring to this particular table, on this particular Wednesday evening, in this particular place?
Well, first it brings a connection between the sharing of bread and the ministry of healing – interestingly, there is no mention of Jesus telling any parables here, no teaching, no prophecy, exhortation, just a crowd of people who came with needs, and found those needs met in Jesus. And maybe, at this stage in term, this is precisely what this story brings to the table for you: that we may come to Jesus for healing and for sustenance, and sometimes it’s OK to leave the learning for a while.
It also brings the compassion of Jesus to the fore. There is no Johannine talk here of spiritual bread, but instead a concern for the wellbeing of those who have gathered. ‘We must feed them or they may faint as they journey home’. They came with needs, and had those needs met, and were given food for the journey. We might speculate about whether any of them were among the 3000 Pentecost converts, but we will never know.
And where are we in this story? Are we the 4000 random people who came once and went their way? Or are they the people we will go on to serve in ordinary parishes up and down the country, who come once and may never come again? Are we the 70 who were sent, or even the twelve? Either way, the story brings us one more crucial thing: Leftovers. It’s all about the leftovers.
Break a nice crusty loaf, and the crumbs get everywhere. That’s why you need a dog. Because if you are used to breaking bread, you’ll know that those crumbs have been destined for the dog since before the loaf was even baked. Those crumbs belong to the dog. Wouldn’t it be terrible if nothing ever fell from the table? If there were no scraps, no leftovers?
I would encourage you, then, to identify within yourself what it is you are receiving – healing, reconciliation, or whatever – and more importantly, what it is you have spare – your leftovers, once you have taken your fill. Because these are what you take with you when you leave here, these are the loaves that you continue to break and share. These are the loaves whose crumbs fall to the floor – crumbs which, in the purposes of God, already belong to someone and will be just the food they need.