The one with the crumby dog

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.

Love Life Live Lent Wednesday of Week Four: say hello to your neighbours!

I was told once that as a vicar, if I didn’t have small children, I should get a dog, as I would need an excuse to be walking in the village without looking like I was just wandering around.  Probably good advice, though I’m not sure that I’ll want to replace the children with a dog when they get too old to be useful in casual pastoral ministry…

One of the joys of being a vicar is that I can smile and say hello to people I don’t know without them thinking I’m a nutter – or at least, if they do think I’m a nutter, it’s not because I smiled at them. This even sort of works in London (not that I go there very often, but I have tried it – smiling at people on the tube – and sometimes people even smile back).

One of the challenges of being a vicar is that when I do smile and say hello to people they often want to stop and talk, which is lovely, unless I’m in a hurry to get somewhere – so one allows time for these encounters.

And I suppose that’s the point, isn’t it?  Allowing time for your hello to become more than a hello is part of what makes the hello worth saying in the first place. It makes a walk down the street less predictable, getting anywhere takes longer and we may be drawn into conversations that are difficult or that demand more of us than we expected to give.  But on the other hand, we may make mew friends. make a difference (in a good way!) to someone’s day…

Saying hello may well be only step one but it could well be step one of a much longer, richer and more interesting journey.