With a parable like this one I don’t know who I like least: Jesus who speaks or Matthew who puts the words into his mouth. “For many are called but few are chosen.” Lousy words to start a retreat because they paint God in such a poor light.
There are two ways of reading these things. You can take it at face value and see God in that murderous king who acts first out of revenge—bad enough—but then out of pettiness which is worse. And where does it leave me? Where’s my wedding garment? and am I in danger of the outer darkness and the grinding teeth?
Occasionally I fall into that trap—where God gets to carry the weight of all my own self-hatred—but, more often—on better days, I read a story like this and get myself into knots trying to find a way to get God off the hook. Can I twist the words to show God in a better light? Maybe the awkward guest was being deliberately disrespectful? Maybe it’s all about whether you will celebrate or not—I’ve used that one myself. But then I catch myself at it and I’m struck by the disproportion of it all. Who am I to be defending God? Isn’t God big enough to take care of himself? Why does it all feel so fragile?
So this afternoon I re-discovered a third way of reading. What if I simply sat with God and told her all about it? About my fear that my own heart is stony. About my embarrassment when I’m associated with a punishing God. About the frustration of homilies that don’t work out. …
And God, being God, said nothing but said it very quietly. For quite a while. And then God, being God, spoke in the way God does—in words that could be your own but carry a weight beyond their size and surprise you—“what if no one came?” That’s what God said.
What, I wonder, if all this—this planet, this splendour, this grace, this gift, this enormous, delicate, breathing, throbbing, burgeoning brightness—were the invitation. And what if no one came?
August 22nd, 2002
What’s the point of the Incarnation if God doesn’t learn something? …
Jesus is having a bad day—maybe a bad month. He’s in retreat—pulled out of Galilee—and come here to the Canaanite territory near Tyre and Sidon and I see him desperate for a break: for time and space. It has been rough for him, these last weeks—with his cousin John slaughtered and his own attempts to think things through frustrated by hungry crowds hanging on his word, begging for his touch. This is his second try. Leave the damned Galilee for a foreign field where no one knows him, no one shares his God, and where no one will bother him. And if the disciples will let him, he’ll rest and pray and see where his call is taking him, where his power and passion are taking him, … and what the price might be.
But then comes the rowdy Canaanite woman shouting, shouting and even here he can have no peace. Maybe he’s angered by the easy way she steals the language of his faith to call him “Son of David” or maybe, like I said, it’s just been a bad day, but something gets him on his high horse. Something possesses him to treat her shamefully. First with silence; then with contempt but … somewhere between snappish retorts he comes to his senses—he learns something: something about faith, something about his call, something about his God. Because something in her full-on reality, in her bare-faced cheek, in her flesh-and-blood desperation, forces its way through his easy answers and gets him to come to, to look and listen and understand.
Fifteen chapters in, she is the first female voice to be heard in Matthew’s gospel and what she says teaches God a lesson.
I wonder maybe what lesson it teaches us? Or, more to the point, let’s turn that around: I wonder what lesson God is waiting to learn from you and me?
What does God need to learn from us that will explode her assumptions? Maybe what it’s like to be a catholic woman longing for priesthood? What it’s like to be gay person pitied by their own church? Or what it’s like to seek asylum and find only mistrust and a cold shoulder? Maybe…
But maybe we say “well God already knows all that.” Yet we give God a chance to know it from the inside … full-on.
Or—forget the causes and the clichés—what does God want to learn about you? What has God been waiting to hear from you this week that has gone unsaid because it is obvious, because God already knows? A lot of embarrassment can hide under what’s obvious. A lot of intimacy can be side-stepped for the “already known.” Because even if God does know, God still wants to hear it from our own lips: how much we love him; how hard it is to be a wife, a priest, a son, the one in charge; how it feels to grow old. God still longs to hear from our hearts what we fear, what we desire … and what we fear to desire.
August 18th, 2002