Signpost for Sunday 17 August: Gen 45:1-15; Ps 133; Rom 11:1-2a, 29-32;Matt 15:10-20, 21-28
I grew up thinking our first testament story’s title actually is ‘Joseph and his coat of many colours’ and like Sheila I much prefer that to the correct version. And somehow that made me think of the old adage, ‘a leopard cannot change his spots’. Which is only relevant because the Genesis and the Gospel readings this week show us a lot of big changes.
Joseph starts out a spoilt, annoying little brat who gets right up his brother’s noses. He’s a tell-tale twit – a phrase I haven’t used since primary school – in Gen 37:2, and he tells them he’s going to be the boss of them. Worse, he’s Dad’s favourite. No wonder they want shot of him.
But look at the lot of them this week. Joseph is a completely different person from what he looked like growing up to be – now he’s merciful, fair, loving and compassionate. But the bros too have changed utterly. Young Benjamin is Dad’s favourite now and you can bet he was a bit a pain like all little brothers can be. But Judah, the one who did for Joe in the first place, is a new man. He treats him completely differently from how he treated young Joseph. Here he is pleading to be the slave in Benji’s place. No thought of getting rid Daddy’s little favourite this time or trying to pull the wool over the Old Man’s eyes with some cock and bull story to keep himself out of trouble. It’s not just about Joseph being YHWH’s chosen one, then, one moral of the story is that YHWH’s plans for each of them have made all of them better people.
It’s seems a bit obvious to say the Gospel story is about radical change too. Isn’t that the point of the Gospels, after all? But the details are fascinating this week.
In Matthew’s story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman we’re used to spotting the change that the Jews need to accept – God’s mercy and love is for everyone not just the Jews. But Jesus the Jew also has to change. He’s behaving just like a typical male Jew when he calls the woman a dog! That’s exactly what Jewish men called their worst enemies. And that’s what Matthew tells us she is – the Canaanites had been the bitter enemies of the Hebrews. (Interestingly in Mark’s 7:24-30 version, the woman is a Syrophoenician.)
In both stories Jesus changes his mind completely about her. And so do the disciples – they get to see that what Jesus was on about when he talked about evil not being what goes in but what comes out (Matt 151-20 and Mark 6:14-23) – what has gone into this Canaanite woman is gentile blood and forbidden food, what comes out of her is enormous faith in God. Right there and then Jesus is made to practice what he has just preached. Some people might say Jesus is only trying make a point to the disciples in the way he handles this, but calling somebody a dog to their face suggests otherwise to me. The fact is that this is the only time in scripture that Jesus loses an argument. And he loses it to someone who is a three-time loser in the first place – a woman, a foreigner and an ancient enemy.