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Saturday, October 21, 2017

In The Field Hospital for the Soul



Reflection

There are those life-changing moments when something in us is stirred and we see the world differently: the birth of a child is one of those moments.  There is a sense of miracle in the emergence of this new life - this product of the reproductive systems of nature; and yet there is the uniqueness of this new life; this is no clone but an individual being, someone who is utterly distinctive and holds an innate capacity to contribute to the world.  Most parents have known the awe of such a moment.  You don’t have to be a church-goer or a Christian to have had something of sort stir in you.  It seems to be wired into our humanity.

Baptism celebrates this uniqueness, it celebrates who we are; it celebrates the miracle and the wonder of creation and it reminds us who we are: it connects us with God and prepares the way for this new life to be nurtured and fulfilled.  For us all, baptism is one of those moments when we see the world with renewed and deeper understanding.

Have you watched any of David Attenborough’s BBC nature programme series Planet Earth?    When watching these films, have you felt (as I have) a sense of wonder at the sheer variety of species and the complex responses of life to a changing environment?  Even as I am amazed at the diversity and differentiation in life, I am also humbled as I become aware of how everything in this planet is interconnected and one form influences another.  The realization of this is overwhelming; I just can’t grasp the scope and the massive implications of this process as it unfolds.  The universe is charged with glory.

We hear Moses ask the Lord “show me your glory, I pray.” The response seems strange: “while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen."  Why is God’s response to Moses request qualified in this way?  I suggest is that it is because the writer knows that the glory of God is more than we can imagine or understand: and that while we may glimpse something of God obliquely in creation, we cannot grasp not the reality of the Holy itself; so it is that Moses may see God’s back, but not his face.

“Show me your glory” the irony of that request is that it is humankind, we, who are ‘made in the image of God’; and it is we who are made to reveal the glory of God.  Let’s push that a little harder: why are we here?  What is our role in creation?   Saint Irenaeus of Lyons summed it up in one phrase: “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”  ... “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.” To be fully alive is our life’s work. Our life’s work – think of it! That is why we have the church: because as human beings we have so much to learn and a great talent for getting things wrong; for not seeing the truth; and for grabbing at such baubles as money, prestige and possessions instead of the truly important things.  To become ‘fully alive’ is a messy process and the church helps us, not as a club for good or perfect human beings, but more as a field hospital for the soul to bring us back into health.

The gospel this morning with this encounter between the Pharisees and Jesus is a harsh reminder of our capacity to ignore what is important and dismally fail to be “fully alive”.   Confronted by Jesus the Pharisees have no sense of him as the one who is ‘fully alive’.  Instead they surround him with their malice and hypocrisy.  They try to trap him with the denarius, the empire’s coin, minted with the Emperor’s image, each coin more or less identical, no living image here, no creative richness, no life, no differentiation.  Is this the measure of who we are?  Is this the measure of our lives?


That is why we are here this morning.  The Cathedral is just a field hospital for the soul.  We come here to take our bearings; to trace our way through the tests and challenges of life.  Here we learn to discern God’s call; we learn to pray; we are nourished by the sacraments; we become ‘tuned’ to the holy and to be receptive to wonder and mystery.  So, in baptism this morning we welcomed Logan to membership in this field hospital of the soul; so, together we are learning -  admittedly slowly and by  fits and starts - how we may give glory to God as a people who will yet be fully alive! 


Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Garment of our Lives


Reflection 

Reading: Matthew 22:1-14.

There is a challenge this morning: we celebrate the dedication of a Chapel honouring the Parata family and alongside that we address the question of the gospel and its meaning for our lives.  Can we find a point of connection?  So, I begin by offering you a phrase, a question, for reflection.  What is ‘the garment of our lives’?

One of the things you notice about special services in the Cathedral is that there are usually clergy who ring or email to enquire about what curious items they are expected to wear for the occasion!  Is it albs or cassock and surplice? Eucharistic or choir dress? If stoles are worn, what colour? Is this a service when copes are an option?  Usually everyone wants to get it right!  No one wants to stand out by looking different.

It’s a very human feeling and not just in the church!  You know the sort of situation:, there is a dinner invitation and there is that sort of discussion that goes on at home while you get ready and one says to the other (Caution is the better part of valour, so I won’t identify anyone but you can fill in the blanks): One says, ‘What are we to wear?’ The other replies  ‘Oh I don’t think it matters.” The question is pressed further, “Posh dress or jeans?’ The answer comes back, ‘Yes, that will be fine.’  

We could revisit this conversation when it happens that the jeans were chosen and the invitation turned out to have been for a black-tie dinner! You might imagine the conversation back home afterwards.  ‘We looked like hillbillies from Hicksville!’ ‘O it will blow over; we’ll laugh about it later.’  ‘What world do you live in?’

The dress code is the sign of belonging and getting it wrong results in embarrassment or exclusion: it happens at High Table, in clubs, the officer’s mess and certain fine dining restaurants; for instance in places where jackets and ties are required and where jandals are excluded.

We understand this: we may rebel against it and decide to flout convention and expectations but that decision carries consequences that we impose upon ourselves.
So, what sense do you make of the parable Jesus tells this morning?  What is ‘the garment of our lives’?

The gospel reminds me of other stories: for instance the story of the women waiting for the marriage celebration; the wise women who have kept their lamps ready and the foolish ones who have no oil (Matthew 25:3-13).  Behind that parable and the parable we face this morning is the tension between the way of wisdom and the way of folly.  It is an ancient tension that runs through the wisdom literature of the Old Testament – for instance we catch echoes of it in the psalms.

Remembering that, nonetheless, my knee-jerk reaction is sympathy for the character who doesn’t meet the dress-code.  How could he be expected to meet the dress code of the Kingdom when, without warning, he is pulled into the banquet hall?  It seems absolutely unfair!  (But cf Luke 12:15-25)  And yet the truth of our lives is that we have little control over important matters and we certainly can’t control when we will die.  You will remember the famous parable in Luke (12: 15-25) where the wealthy landowner sets out his plans to build numerous barns to store and grow his business but God says “You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?” So our life is that vulnerable space where all sorts of things may happen and quite beyond our planning.  What is ‘the garment of our lives’?

With that thought in mind, what do you really make of this story of the garment without which this guest at the banquet is so roughly and arbitrarily cast out into darkness?  This has to be a metaphor – but of what?  There is a history behind and a tradition.  

The best account of it is in the tradition of Jewish mysticism, in the Jewish Kabbalah, the book known as Zohar.  In the Kabbalah this world can be thought of as a vestibule to heaven and all that we do is preparation for eternity.  We learn to become our true self and in the process prepare what we may imagine as ‘the garment of days’ that fits us for eternity.  
So I quote from the Zohar:
“It has been taught: Happy are the righteous for their days are pure and extend to the world that is coming. When they leave this world, all their days are sewn together, made into radiant garments for them to wear. Arrayed in that garment, they are admitted to the world that is coming to enjoy its pleasures. Clothed in that garment, they are destined to come back to life. All who had a garment will be resurrected as it is written: 'They will rise as in a garment' (Job 38:14).”
What then is ‘the garment of our lives’? It is the self we have spent our lives holding before God.

On this day of remembering the name ‘Parata’ in this Cathedral we find ourselves giving thanks for those who have lived wisely and well; those who have so followed Christ that their memory is to us a source of light, a warmth of love and a sustaining and gentling presence that encourages us on our way as we seek to follow Christ.  To live in this way is to be changed and to work for change in our world.  We seek to become lights in the darkness of a world that is damaged by exploitation and defaced by greed.  We become workers for the Kingdom as we follow Christ: this is ‘the garment of our lives’.



Saturday, October 7, 2017

The story of our lives


27th Sunday in Ordinary Time

A Reflection


There are some words that open our hearts; that turn a key even in a rusted lock; and that prepare us to see our familiar world afresh: I think of the phrase, ‘Once upon a time.’  It is the story teller’s overture, the gambit that catches our attention and draws us in to a world that unfolds around us.  A world where good and evil are encountered; a world where we learn to see, discern and discriminate; a world where the ordinary and the wonderful coincide and where, nearly always, there may be more than we expect.  It is the phrase we remember from early childhood; heavy with expectation and promise; it is the phrase we may use ourselves, when the time to tell a story is given to us for our children and grandchildren.

Story is the natural genre of scripture.  The bible begins with a story, that starts like this: ”In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth, and while the earth was still unformed, God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. Then God separated the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day and the darkness Night. And there was an evening and a morning, making the first day.”  We remember that this story goes on to tell of the first humans and their location in the first garden, the perfect place and the conditions they are given for its care.

It is the nature of stories that they carry within themselves connecting strands that can link one to another; or, another way of putting it, they can hold resonances and echoes that spill over from one to another.  For instance in the story from the Gospel this morning when Jesus says “Listen to another parable” he tells another story and the careful listener recognises echoes of an older tale.

Jesus tells the story of a beginning, when someone went to a great deal of work and created something.  He did all the hard work needed to make a vineyard: he planted, fenced, and installed a wine press; he even built a watch tower so that the vineyard could be protected.   When you think about it you realise that a vineyard is a long term project.   It involves a long term commitment to the land, to people and to generations to come.   It can flourish only in times of peace, giving vines time to grow and fruit without disturbance.  It carries the promise of aged wine, reflective thought, sustained projects, safety, seeing your grandchildren grow up.  But one thing went wrong.  The people placed to care for the vineyard, did not fulfil their duty of care, but conspired against the landowner so that the promise of peace and plenty was lost.  We recognise that this is our story too and that we may recognise ourselves in the rebellious and unfruitful tenants.

Yet the story of God with us is always about how what has been lost is recovered, restored and redeemed. So, for instance, in the Old Testament, a new relationship occurs in the event known as the Exodus : that becomes the foundational story for Israel. It is the story that must not be forgotten.  So the Old Testament reading this morning celebrates the mighty acts of God: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” and the story remembers the commandments that mark the special relationship between God and his people.  Remembering is central to how story works, we remember so that we learn to respond and the story lives within us, shapes us and changes us.

That is what happens in the epistle this morning; remembrance becomes response.  Paul remembers the story of God in Jesus Christ and Paul responds by following Christ with all his heart, energy and strength.  Paul is drawn into the story and into Christ: “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death … forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

This is what happens with us in the Eucharist this morning.  The Eucharist is the ‘Once upon a time’ story of the Church when we tell, remember and respond. May our hearts be opened, our closed and rusted locks released!  The Eucharist is our foundational story; it taps into our memories and our humanity; it encompasses our deepest hopes and fears; it draws us into great mystery of Christ; it forms and changes us.  Christ meets us in the bread and wine …  (Love’s Choice, Malcom Guite)

This bread is light, dissolving, almost air,
A little visitation on my tongue,
A wafer-thin sensation, hardly there.
This taste of wine is brief in flavour, flung
A moment to the palate’s roof and fled,
Even its aftertaste a memory.
Yet this is how he comes. Through wine and bread
Love chooses to be emptied into me.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Packing Thoughts and the luggage we carry



Gracious God,
when two or three are gathered in your name, you are there.
Be present with your family, the church.
Give us grace and maturity when we are in conflict.
Help us to listen, to forgive and to live together in mutual love.
We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and for ever. Amen.

It's a bold frank collect, very realistic.   And I would like to be a fly on the wall of the Cathedral to hear what the preacher may make of it.  Matthew 18 is such a gospel to engage with.  The best and simplest comment I have heard on Matthew 18 is below, a comment by a very wise and experienced pastor who understands the dynamics of congregations...

"Jesus says to love your enemies. But there is a difference between loving and tolerating - especially for the sake of the “little ones,” that is, the rest of the congregation. One negative person can suck all the energy from a room. One skilled gossiper, craftily playing on others' craving of intrigue, drama, or titillation, can bring down a good pastor. One envier, with a huge unacknowledged shadow, can demolish a church.

Love the envier. Love the gossiper. Love the poor nay-sayer. Pray for them. Listen to them. But don't let them infest the church - because everyone will suffer. Be as innocent as doves but as wary as serpents - because the folks who bring down a church often do their work in secret until the foundations crack beyond repair.

A woman who just lost her job said to me, “Sometimes an angel has to push you off the cliff before you get the help you need. I'm scared, but grateful I lost my job - because that's the only way the good that is to come can happen.”

Don't stop the angel from nudging. Let God help the troubler face the consequences of the hurt they carry inside but project onto the community. I always thought that the church should put up with all kinds of malevolence, and asking even the most destructive person to leave was not a Christian option. But now I know what looks cruel may be, in fact, kind."


This has been a strange day with odd moments of hilarity and anxiety - packing to travel for four weeks of flights, buses and walking, overnighting here and there and doubtless hordes of other tourists.  Dunstan is unhappy, he knows something is up. He follows me from one room to the other and eyes the suitcases with deep suspicion.  He clearly wonders about the early morning walk routine - or is that just me?  Few chances for writing in the blog for a while I fear.

Dunstan




Saturday, September 2, 2017

The Sign of The Cross


The 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 2017

Choral Matins


Do you have a memory of a film that profoundly affected you?  I have memories of a variety of films with powerful moments, some moments almost too much to watch, but I have a particular memory, now more than 60 years old – it was The Ten Commandments and that moment when the wandering Moses encounters the burning bush and is told, “Take your sandals from off your feet, for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.”  That is the moment when Moses hears God’s voice and receives his call.  I remember that moment and the frisson of awe that shook me as a very susceptible nine-year-old; that thought of ‘The Holy’.

Moses and the burning bush
In the scriptures, that is the moment where the purpose of God is revealed and promised, God will deliver his people from oppression.  And so begins the great mission of Moses, accompanied by all the turmoil, the blood sweat and tears, that marked the Exodus.  In the course of this mission, Moses is transformed, his life is no longer his own, and God’s purpose is accomplished.

It is no accident that in the New Testament Jesus is seen as the second Moses; he is charged with the redemption and deliverance of Israel and the World.  So, too, in the gospel reading this morning, when Jesus discloses what the cross means for him and for us, it is made clear that the cross is not an abstract principle but the agonising precondition of following Christ.  "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

In these words Our Lord outlines in summary form a whole way of life.  The denial of self is a clear renunciation of wilfulness, of having our own way, of indulging our preferences for the soft option; this is a way of being that is summarised by the cross; and embedded here is a life-changing and soul shaping process of transformation.  This is at the heart of our calling, the cross changes us and shapes us.  Paul explains this when he writes: “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

In the Episcopal Prayer book, the office for Morning Prayer,  the Collect for Friday is explicit:

A Collect for Fridays
Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but
first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he
was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way
of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and
peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

I remember being prepared for confirmation by the university chaplain at Ramsey House, the Anglican Centre in Victoria University, when I was a young student.  The Chaplain was in the Catholic tradition of our church and had been trained at Mirfield, in The Community of the Resurrection.  A little of that rubbed off on me: I was taught to make the sign of the cross.  It is not about lugging the cross around, but was always about taking the cross inwards! An Eastern Orthodox has put it this way:

“The summation of the life of Jesus in the symbol and the sign of the cross is not meant so much as an act of "taking up" the cross, as it is of "taking the cross inside." The direction of the sign of the cross is inward, which suggests embracing and internalizing the life of Jesus. Nevertheless, this inward direction suggests that, starting with the historical events of the life of Jesus, we live these events here and now, appropriating them outside time and space, as we become one with the timeless Christ.” (Andreas Andropoulos)


I still remember how strange it felt for me, newly confirmed, to make the sign of the cross and how self-conscious I initially felt doing it. (This was something utterly alien to my family’s staunchly protestant tradition). ‘Taking Christ in; putting Christ on’ … these were quite conscious thoughts then; and now, I often deliberately recall them to remind myself.  

By chance I came across reference to a former 18-19th  century Episcopalian who converted to Rome and was taught to make the sign of the Cross while there.  She became the first American-born Saint, Elizabeth Anne Seton  (1774-1821) and she remembered the impression of making the sign of the cross for the first time.  She wrote: “I was cold with the awful impression my first making it gave me -- the sign of the cross of Christ on me! Deepest thoughts came with it of I know not what earnest desires to be closely united with Him who died on it. Oh, that last day when it is to be borne in triumph!

To bear the cross is to be vulnerable and we do not know where it may lead.  I am very struck by these word from Sophie Scholl, a German student who felt led to oppose Nazism.  She was a founder of the society known as The White Rose” and was captured for distributing anti-Nazi literature and trying to arouse Germans against Nazism.  Her words describe what I consider her way of the cross.

"The real damage is done by those millions who want to “survive.” The honest people who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves – or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honor, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

Source: Die Letzten Tage  (Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) )

Saturday, August 26, 2017

The real question we have to answer







Readings: Exodus 1:8-2:10 and Psalm 124Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20


Who do you say Jesus is?  That is the great question that all the Gospels try to answer; that is the question that looms behind all the stories that are remembered, treasured, recorded, mulled over and meditated upon.  Within the question is the ‘Open sesame’ for all the questions of our lives and of all our searching; within it is the map that shows us the way home and gives us the keys to the kingdom.

Who do you say Jesus is?  How do we begin or where do we begin?  Do we begin with what we know, or rather with what we think we know?  Is this simply a matter of thinking?  A matter of getting our theology sorted out?  Good luck with that!  Can we sort out our Christology and answer the question?  Have we world enough and time?  

Can we explain how Jesus is both truly God and truly human?  Reason would tell us that is an oxymoron: one or the other might be arguable but not both.  Paul encourages Jesus as a model for all his followers and in arguing his case offers a suggestion as to how the two natures, human and divine, may be imaginatively linked.  In Philippians 2 (5-8) he says:


5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8 he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.


Christ ‘empties himself’ of his divinity, he puts it aside.  This self-emptying we know of as kenosis – from the Greek term Paul uses.  It could be seen as a dangerous approach to the problem.  Because is a Christ drained of divinity, even voluntarily, really God? But, by the same token, if divinity is not yielded, how can he be truly human?  Are we going to sort out our Christology this morning?  

Paul takes us boldly into the intolerable abyss of ambiguity and seems to grasp the terrible anguish of a God who endures such a state – even ‘death on a cross.’ To be truly human must entail uncertainty: meaning limited knowledge and limited power.  So when Jesus asks the disciples what people say about him, is he voicing his own inner uncertainty?  Is he trying to identify who he really is and what God is requiring of him?  If that is so, is the consciousness of his calling something that gradually emerges over the course of time and through the experience and encounters his ministry provides?  

You may remember from last Sunday that I touched on this in his encounter with the Canaanite woman – when she out-manoeuvred him in theological debate – as I said then, ‘The Son of God changed his mind’. Are we going to sort out our Christology this morning and answer the question?  It seems our minds can’t quite get us there?

Now, what is happening when Jesus asks the disciples what they think of him?  Is he seeking reassurance?  Is he testing them?  Or is he giving them an opportunity to commit themselves and to make a leap beyond where the mind can go?  Perhaps all of these possibilities are on the table.  

Peter’s response seems typical of the man.  He speaks impulsively – typically from the heart rather than the head.  He speaks out of his experience of Jesus – the experience that the gospels record and much more that we can only imagine must have taken place in the informal talk shared during long journeys; conversations through the nights by a fire; questions that arose when impossible things happened; healings, of course;  and then maybe that eery sense of sheer mystery, of otherness,  that always seemed to surround Jesus; but perhaps, most of all was his feeling that whenever he was near Jesus, he felt he was truly and utterly at home; known through and through; at home and at peace.  It was being loved… yes, that was it, love was the key!  

Peter answers out of love.  "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  Love takes Peter where the mind can’t quite go and love gives him the keys of life.  The life we all seek from the very depths and marrow of our being.

Be encouraged in this great journey of the heart, as one great Archbishop of Canterbury, noted:

O Lord my God,
teach my heart where and how to seek you,
where and how to find you.
Lord, if you are not here but absent,
where shall I seek you?
But you are everywhere, so you must be here,
why then do I not seek you?...

Lord, I am not trying to make my way to your height,
for my understanding is in no way equal to that,
but I do desire to understand a little of your truth
which my heart already believes and loves.
I do not seek to understand so that I may believe,
but I believe so that I may understand;
and what is more,
I believe that unless I do believe I shall not understand.

-Anselm of Canterbury c.1033-1109


Lord Jesus, ‘Teach our hearts’.  Give us the keys to the Kingdom.Amen!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Christ in the flux of History


20th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Reflection

Political events this week – Riots in Charlottesville, North Korea tensions, terrorist violence in Barcelona, the tragedy of the mudslide in Sierra Leone, this is a catalogue of shocking  pain and loss. What response can we make? We come this morning with these matters on our hearts.  Alongside these stories of the world’s confusion and pain we come also to hear again and remember the stories that shape our faith.

The story of Joseph is a tremendous family story of jealousy and betrayal and of reversal of fortunes as the young man sold into slavery becomes a leader of a nation and the story climaxes in the moment when the brothers who sold him come before him for his help.  In a dramatic moment  of disclosure, a brilliant and emotional moment, Joseph re-writes the family story; and sees the whole family narrative, its tragedy of loss and pain, from a greater perspective, “It was not you who sent me here, but God.”  This most Jewish story recognises the purpose of God faithfully keeping the covenant with his people Israel, working within the flux of history.

The gospel this morning is caught up in a family debate within the Judaism of Jesus’ time.  Some of the Pharisees promoted a tradition of hand-washing before meals as a way of encouraging holiness, a spiritual discipline, not a matter of hygiene.  Jesus dissents from that tradition when he declares that holiness proceeds from the heart and not from the laws and customs associated with food: this was a controversial position to take.  In this moment we see Jesus speaking as a Jew within the assumptions and debates of Judaism.  But what happens next?

Jesus heads away from Jerusalem and heads northwest toward the Mediterranean coast, toward a region associated with non-Jewish communities.  There he encounters an unknown woman identified only as a Canaanite – the ancient designation for the inhabitants of the region.

The Canaanite Woman asks for healing for her daughter . 
Juan, de Flandes, approximately 1465-1519 
The Jewish Jesus is confronted by his cultural and religious antithesis – a Canaanite woman who wants him to heal her daughter.   Again we see Jesus speaking as a Jew within Judaism: he ignores this religious ‘outsider’.   She creates a scene and obviously makes his disciples uncomfortable – because they ask him to send her away “for she keeps shouting after us”.  He explains the problem and why he ignores her: she is not within his mission: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”.  This is a very orthodox Jewish point of view, a family perspective if you like.  His objection is entirely comprehensible to Jesus’ Jewish followers.  There is no surprise in this.

But what follows does surprise us.  The Canaanite woman directly approaches Jesus and kneels in front of him directly with a direct petition “Lord help me”.  In that moment, by that movement, the Canaanite woman cannot be ignored.  She is seen differently, she becomes a person and cannot be dismissed simply as a cultural outsider.  She says, “Lord help me”.   It cannot be more direct or simple than that.  It is the suppliant’s prayer.  We may find ourselves praying that a dozen times a day: in every situation where we are stumped as to what to say or do.  It is a relational plea; it produces a relational realignment.

This is not Charlottesville, a race confrontation  with no one really ‘seeing’ each other,  just different groups , ‘us’ and ‘them’, yelling across a history of stereotypes, slogans and prejudice.

Jesus’ response is still firmly rooted in his exclusive Jewish vision: salvation is for the Jews.  Accordingly his response sounds harsh: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs."  For him, the Jews are the children, and the dogs are the Gentiles.  Admittedly his harshness  is somewhat softened by his use of the term for puppies – but that is a trivial nuance – the relational position is still severe: Jews are children; Gentiles are dogs.

Her clever response turns Jesus’ words back upon him "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." In a word, all are fed by God.

At that response Jesus, the Son of God, changes his mind: in that moment his vision of salvation is transformed; expanded beyond recognition. He is ‘out-theologised’ by this early feminist theologian!

Jesus’ theology has shifted; it has become more comprehensive as it has been challenged in this ministry encounter. But it is even more than that: his consciousness has changed. He starts to understand his calling differently under the pressure of this encounter. Maybe here we see something of the nature of the incarnation; a Christ who develops into his calling; in the activity of a God who works constantly within the untidy flux and hazards of history. God works in the encounter with this unnamed Canaanite woman; it may be that God is at work in the shambles at Charlottesville, even in the tragic death of Heather Heyer.