We’re trying to do things differently in worship on suitable occasions, and our morning service on 20 August saw us facing each other across the central aisle (an hommage to the World Cup perhaps?!) and using a dramatic dialogue to shed new light on the Gospel reading (Matthew 15:21–28).
Listen in to the Canaanite woman as she and her husband are discussing what happened:
Joel: I still can’t believe you did it.
Ruth: What else was I to do, Joel? Nothing else has worked.
Joel: But to be so blatant about it. So open.
Ruth: Joel, it’s our daughter. Do you understand that? Our daughter. And how long has she been sick? Five months? Six?
Joel: So that makes it okay to talk to a man in broad daylight? A man we know nothing about? Some wandering teacher.
Ruth: He has a name, Joel, as you well know.
Joel: Yes, yes, Jesus. And so you nag and pester him until you get what you want – is that it?
Ruth: What is your problem, Joel? Is it that I did it without asking you? Is it that I argued with him? Arguing with a man in front of everybody, in broad daylight. That would never do.
Joel: You should have known better.
Ruth: She’s cured isn’t she?
Joel: Well I can’t deny that. But that might have happened anyway.
Ruth: You don’t believe that.
Joel: It just makes us look so desperate.
Ruth: We are desperate, or at least we were. Now, praise God, everything seems to be all right.
Joel: I still don’t like it.
Ruth: Well, Joel, you can sulk all you want, but what’s done is done.
Joel: You argued with him.
Ruth: Yes, I argued with him, and I think he enjoyed it.
Joel: What do you mean, ‘enjoyed it’?
Ruth: Well think about it. Perhaps he wanted me to fight back. Perhaps he wanted to see how far I was prepared to go, how much I felt it.
Joel: He got more than he bargained for with you.
Ruth: Joel, you know me. I speak my mind. Always have, always will. And when he made that comment about dogs, well I just saw red. I couldn’t help it.
Joel: I guess he deserved what he got.
Ruth: Once I get the bit between my teeth, I’m off.
Joel: To be honest you scare me sometimes.
Ruth: Not half as much as I scare myself. I think he really wanted to see how much this mattered to me. How much I believed that he could do something about it. And once he saw that, things changed.
Joel: He’s certainly a strange one.
Ruth: But the funny thing is, I never felt he was being cruel to me. In fact I’m pretty sure he wanted to help.
Joel: Look, Ruth, about what I said earlier. I didn’t mean to be unkind. The truth is I’m proud of you. Scared but proud.
Ruth: I’m just glad we’ve got our daughter back.
Joel: How is she?
Ruth: Sitting up in bed, demanding something to drink – just like always.
In our reading and drama today we hear about a woman who belongs to a country that was the traditional enemy of God’s ways, but is commended by Jesus for her remarkable faith, which touches his heart and impresses him. This is in sharp contrast to the ‘experts’, the Pharisees, who see Jesus at work and hear his teaching, but are still blinded to the truth. Not only does their tunnel–vision make it unlikely they will ever relate to anything Jesus says, but it also creates obstacles to other people coming to faith. It is that aspect which disturbs Jesus so much – self-righteousness, self-sufficiency and cynicism are excellent for putting out flickering flames of faith.
We see a mother who is desperate for her daughter to be healed, and her perseverance, trust and hope in the face of opposition –the disciples showed no compassion, and wanted to be rid of this woman because she was bothering Jesus with her persistent begging.
How much faith we really have in God will be shown not by what we say or claim but by the way we respond and act.
Our dramatic dialogue is one of a set devised by Paul S. Glass, and found in Volume 9 (ISBN 978-0716205678) of the 10-volume Companion to the Revised Common Lectionary. [The publisher was Epworth Press, an imprint of Methodist Publishing, named after Epworth in Lincolnshire, the birthplace of John and Charles Wesley] All are out of print, but second-hand copies can usually be located, and many of the volumes will be of interest: search at this link.
Our image is Christ and the Canaanite Woman (1594–1595) by Annibale Carracci, Bolognese painter (1560–1609): Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Did you notice the wee dog?