Matthew invites us into a whole variety of experiences this Sunday. Verses 10 through 20, considered optional, center around a conflict about tradition and authority followed by a parable about the truth of the actions of the heart. This is followed by healings and feedings. The next chapter begins with more conflict.
My grandmother was from a part of the world that no longer exists. As an immigrant to the U.S. between two wars, she saw people raped and murdered and towns plundered. Until she died she continued to express strong feelings about people and places—feelings that seemed only bizarre and paranoid to me, her young granddaughter.
About ten years ago I started to become vegetarian. But although my menu shifted, my Christian observance continued pretty much the same. A cradle Anglican, I was a graduate student at King’s College, Cambridge. Evensong in chapel was a staple of my spiritual diet, often followed by dinner in the hall. Although physical sustenance came right after spiritual sustenance, I had little sense of a link between the two beyond the notion that sharing food with others was a good thing to do and that one should not take too much food in order to leave plenty for others. As a Christian, I was not unusual in failing to make connections between faith and food.
The problem with Matthew 15:21-28 lies in the portrait of Jesus as neither the Jesus we have come to know and love nor, if we are honest, a Jesus we particularly like. The optional verses in the lectionary (Matt. 15:10-20) may elicit Peter’s reaction: “Explain yourself, Jesus!”
I struggle with the story of Jesus encountering the Canaanite woman. I
don’t know if it’s the lack of compassion in Jesus’ voice or the
exploitation of power or the tone of condescension, but if this were
the only story I knew of Jesus I’d be turned off.