by Maria Evans
As much as I want to get into today’s Gospel reading and our Epistle, it still feels important we talk about the elephant in the room in our Old Testament reading…what’s up with that whole bit about David hating the lame and the blind? I’m sure many of us looked at today’s reading and thought, “No. Something’s not right here.” It’s one of those times it really pays to walk through the readings multiple times.
The book of 2 Samuel is largely about David’s rise to power and the establishment of the Davidic dynasty, and this includes several war stories. In our reading today, David and the people of Israel are getting ready to wage war on the Jebusites, and the whole reason the lame and the blind are mentioned is because the Jebusites are taunting David and his troops–sort of the equivalent of the taunt that’s on my personal blacklist, “You throw like a girl!” (I still have fond memories of playing “burnout” with one of the neighbor boys, and as he pulled off his baseball glove and massaged his hand, saying to him, “Not bad for someone who throws like a girl, huh?”)
But back to David and the Jebusites. The Jebusites are so impressed with their own prowess in walls and fortifications, it’s leading them to a really stupid taunt–”Ha! You’re so puny, Israelites, our town weaklings will turn your sorry army back! Go home, losers!” My guess is from that point forward, David is using their own words against them from that point forward. When David is talking about “the lame and the blind,” more likely he’s using that phrase as a euphemism for “the Jebusites.” Sadly, it’s one of those things that later gets misused and corrupted as an excuse for enforcing the purity code. It’s also important to remember that not everything people do in the Bible is necessarily an instruction on how we should live. You may recall David does a few other things that no one would recommend emulating. Just because David taunted his enemies, it doesn’t mean we should. Many of us, at one time or another, have succumbed to the “snappy comeback” and later regretted it.
It’s worth noting that by the time we get to our Gospel reading, we are reminded of how important “the outsider” is in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We are so attuned to Jesus as divine, we forget he was also fully human, and one of his fully human bits, I believe, is that he grew up much like we all did–with a certain set of learned cultural norms and prejudices–but what Jesus does in his interchange with the Syrophoenician woman is we see that he is capable of a change of heart. This time, it’s the outsider’s snappy comeback that turns the tide–and Jesus’ heart. Growing up steeped in the Jewish norms and traditions, he was certainly exposed to prejudice against Gentiles…and the well-placed comeback from a woman who has nothing to lose, stops Jesus in his tracks, turns him around, and throws old prejudices to the roadside. We also need to remember that this is one out of place incident in a larger and better story. Time and time again, we will see Jesus go out of his way to be present for the marginalized of his society at that time. The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman serves as a reminder that there is always hope for change. Hope for all of us to change our mind from closely held beliefs that, in the end, exclude people rather than include them…beliefs we might have been carefully taught, but no one really examined more deeply.
This ability to have a change of heart and at the same time go against the prevailing culture, I believe, is part of the substrate of how, in the early church, the disciples were emboldened to spread the Good News of Christ in lands where they were not always well received, as in our reading from Acts today. It’s a lesson worth remembering today, as each of us discern how we are to speak up and call out injustices where it may turn out we’re suddenly unpopular when we side with the marginalized.
We were reminded in yesterday’s Gospel reading that “impurities come from within”, and we can allow ourselves to be entrapped in a type of idolatrous legalism when we pay more attention to the rule rather than the people within the sphere of that rule. Yet there is hope–because we can always have a change of heart. We can even change our own ways now and then–and when we can’t do it ourselves, we can lean into the words of our Baptismal Covenant–”I will, with God’s help!” Just be aware that sometimes, God’s help comes in the guise of people you might never have expected to have the ability to change your mind.
When is a time you’ve regretted falling victim to the urge to give the “snappy comeback?” Who came along and changed your heart enough to cause you to change your ways?
Maria Evans splits her week between being a pathologist and laboratory director in Kirksville, MO, and gratefully serving in the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri as a Priest Associate at Church of the Good Shepherd and Chaplain of the Community of St. Brigid, both in Town and Country, MO.