Proper 15A (RCL)
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
I have certainly been having fun reading the stories from Genesis in the RCL now that we’ve switched. Never had to pay close attention to them before. For this week’s lesson, I was caught by the last sentence: “He kissed his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.” Seems a little staged. The Tanakh (New JPS Translation) has, “He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; only then were his brothers able to talk to him.” I like that.
Joseph was something of an insufferable brat when he had been at home with his brothers, all his dreams of dominating them. He was his father’s favorite. No wonder they hated him. They, of course, sold him into slavery in Egypt. When they showed up needing grain, Joseph decided to get a little of his own back, sending the money back with the grain, and then hiding his cup in Benjamin’s sack. As long as the grievances stood, there was no communication. On each side the shame (done to and by each side) got in the way of relationship. Only grief could restore the relationship. Joseph had to come to realize that his dreams of dominance hadn’t been about him (getting to lord it over his brothers), but part of God’s plan for saving others. The brothers, too, had to figure out what this kind of servant leadership looked like. It was a come down for both sides.
And then, they could talk.
Jesus encounters this pesky woman (or better, she encounters him). She cries, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” She addresses him as a suppliant entering the presence of a sovereign, and uses royal titles (same ones used by Blind Bartimaeus). Jesus answers not a word, a sovereign’s right. The disciples want her dealt with: she is shaming them and Jesus with the commotion. Jesus shames her in return: no one takes the children’s bread and throws it to the dogs. She accepts the rebuke and points out to Jesus the unreasonableness of his position: even dogs. He replies, “Woman, great is your faithfulness.” That’s an attribute of God (Great is thy faithfulness).
Paul is trying to broker a peace between Gentile Christians, who think they are all that, and Jewish Christians.
The Diocese of Missouri and the Diocese of Lui find themselves in similar positions; or the Episcopal Church USA and the Episcopal Church of Sudan. Archbishop Daniel issued a press release in which he condemned homosexuality. People who love him, and who care deeply about ECS, and about Lui have been hurt deeply. Bishop Wayne says that the Sudanese bishops want us to understand, they wouldn’t have issued such a statement if they didn’t love us. They could only say those things to someone they cared about. Doesn’t feel like love. Some of us have wanted to cut off the relationship with Lui. ECS says its hard to evangelize in their circumstance being known as the “gay” church. They say we don’t understand how deeply we have hurt them.
So, there are Joseph and his brothers facing one another. There is grain in Egypt. Can they be part of God’s plan to save the family of Israel? It’s a dicey business. Both could claim the hurt was too deep, and rightly so. Instead, they weep. And only then can they talk. We need to express our griefs to one another (ECUSA and ECS) and recognize our brothers and sisters. It would be so much easier to walk away. We wouldn’t have to acknowledge how deeply we have been hurt and how deeply we have hurt the other. That’s not comfortable.
Jesus has his encounter with the Canaanite woman in the region of Tyre and Sidon. He is off his familiar ground, in Gentile territory. We can only “get it” if we go there. I’m glad Matthew chose to portray Jesus (following Mark’s example) as clueless and even cruel, before his own conversion. The christian community, telling its story as Jesus’ story acknowledges that moving to a new understanding of the Gospel is costly work. Gives me encouragement when we don’t “get it” right away, that we are in good company.