Tag Archives: racism

The Gates of Hades Will Not Prevail

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

There is a Chinese proverb: “It is better to be a dog in a peaceful time than to be a human being in a period of chaos.” Well, folks, like it or not, we are human beings in a period of chaos. Two weeks ago, in Charlottesville, Virginia, there was a right-wing rally. American Nazis marched in the streets carrying torches and chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” These “very fine people,” as the President called them, wish to rid the country of anyone who is not a white heterosexual of pure European descent. As you know, a woman was murdered by one of those American Nazis, and many other innocent people were injured.

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On Prejudice

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Click here for a printable version.

Lectionary Readings (Track 1)

A few days ago, I received a letter from the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church asking all clergy to participate in a one-day event with the rather ungainly title of “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday.” Because of the short notice, what you will get is this sermon and a special collect at the Prayers of the People. Neither the sermon nor the prayer will end racism in this nation. But if they serve only to open our eyes, something important will have been achieved. So let that be our goal.

Even if I had not received marching orders from the Presiding Bishop, we might very well have explored the topic of prejudice. For both the Epistle and the Gospel touch upon this issue.

St. James is concerned about how fellow Christians treat rich people better than poor people, even at church. In other words, James is concerned with prejudice: prejudice for the rich and against the poor. James reminds his readers, and us, that God has endowed the poor with the gift of faith. God has chosen the poor to be heirs of the kingdom. And he warns his readers: “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

Syrophoenician woman

Syrophoenician woman

And then we come to the Gospel reading and the disturbing episode with the Syrophoenician woman. Jesus is hiding out in Gentile territory when he is confronted by a woman with a sick daughter. The woman is identified as a Greek-speaking Gentile, more specifically a Syrophoenician, a descendent of the Canaanites, the ancestral enemies of the Jews. Despite this ancestral enmity, the woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet and begs him to cast out the demon that has made her little daughter so sick. Jesus responds dismissively, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” The upshot of Jesus’ metaphor is that his ministry of healing is restricted to the children of Israel and not intended for Gentile dogs. In particular, Jesus is flatly refusing to heal the “little dog” who happens to be this woman’s sick daughter! (Keep in mind that in biblical times, the epithet “dog” was used to describe idolaters, prostitutes, and oppressors of the poor.)

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A Crumb of Grace for a Sick Little Dog

By the Rev. Darren Miner

If you have been watching the news reports of late, you will have heard about racial unrest in Ferguson, Missouri; ethnic warfare in Gaza; and ethnic cleansing in Iraq. Sensitized to racial and ethnic tensions in the world today, we find that today’s Gospel reading grates on our ears. There is a temptation for preachers to gloss over the story, since Jesus’ behavior is an embarrassment. But it would be foolish to do so, for, believe it or not, this story is a turning point in the course of the history of salvation!

Jesus heads to Gentile territory, to the coast of what today is Lebanon. According to Saint Mark’s account, Jesus intends to hide out there and stay out of the public eye. He certainly does not intend to make himself known by public healings.

But Jesus’ intentions are thwarted when he is confronted by a woman with a sick daughter. The woman is identified by Matthew as a Canaanite. Now this identification is unusual. For the term “Canaanite” was archaic. It would be like referring to an Irishman as a “Hibernian.” In Saint Mark’s version of the story, she is called a “Syrophoenician,” the more usual term. So why does Saint Matthew used the old-fashioned word “Canaanite”? Well, the answer is that he wants to bring to mind the ancestral hatred between the Israelites and the Canaanites. For Matthew, the point is not just that she is a pagan, but that she is the enemy! (Imagine, if you will, a Jewish rabbi today confronted by a Palestinian woman in Gaza.)

Despite the historical enmity between her people and the Jews and despite the cultural norms that forbade a woman from addressing a strange man, this desperate woman seeks out the help of this foreign healer. Somehow, she has come to know about him and about the fact that he is reputed to be the Messiah of the Jews; it is for that reason that she uses the messianic term of address “Son of David.” She begs Jesus to help her sick daughter. But Jesus’s initial response is stony silence.

Yet the woman persists, and her persistence is such an annoyance that the disciples ask Jesus to send her packing. He tries to convince her to give up and leave by explaining that his healing mission is reserved for the children of Israel—and only the children of Israel. Still, the woman persists. She proceeds to prostrate herself at Jesus’ feet, crying, “Lord, help me!” Seemingly unmoved, Jesus responds, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” The upshot of Jesus’ graphic metaphor is that his ministry (and God’s grace!) are not intended for Gentile dogs. In particular, Jesus is flatly refusing to heal the “little dog” who happens to be this woman’s sick daughter!

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