Today marks the second Sunday of Lent, also known as Reminiscere, so named for the first line of the Introit read today. Psalm 25:6a. “Remember your mercy, O Lord, and your steadfast love.”Reminiscere miserationum tuarum, Domine, et misericordiae tuae
The theme of today is on wrestling with God. If last Sunday focused on our struggles with temptation, this focuses on our struggles with God. The Old Testament and Gospel readings are then Genesis 32:22-32 and Matthew 15:21-28. Jacob literally wrestling with God and Jesus’s encounter with the Canaanite woman.
In Jacob’s encounter, the wrestling is quite explicit. When Jacob is in the wilderness, a man shows up and begins wrestling him. This wrestling will occur all through the night, which is very odd to think about. Jacob is able to hold his own wrestling against God all night long. Even when daybreak comes, and God strikes Jacob’s hip to dislocate it, seeking to end the fight, Jacob refuses to stop. He keeps holding on, keeps fighting with God, determined to persevere. It’s this spirit that changes Jacob’s name. From supplanted, usurper, cheater to “he who struggles with God.” Israel.
In the Gospel story, we also have someone confronting and wrestling with God, though this time more through a debate. The Canannite woman that Jesus meets on the way to Tyre and Sidon represents our persistence in the face of what we see as God's silence. She finds Jesus and begs him to heal her daughter from demon possession. And Jesus does something very unexpected.
He ignores her.
Nevertheless, she persists.
To the point where Jesus's followers have to come to him and beg him to tell her to go away. She's continuing to follow after them and shout at Jesus, to beg his healing of her daughter. He tells his disciples that he was sent to the lost sheep, to the people of Israel.
The woman continues to persist. She comes before him and bows and asks "Lord, help me!" This time, Jesus tells her that he can't take from the children (the Israelites) and give to the dogs (the Gentiles). This seems very harsh; but her response is what is amazing. She tells him essentially that even the dogs get scraps.
Jesus replies that she had great faith. And at that moment, her daughter was healed.
This story seems odd in view of the rest of the Gospel. Jesus seems cold and uncaring, in direct contrast to many of His other interactions. I think we see this only if we stick to a surface reading. If we dig a little deeper, I think we can understand his motives.
Like his delay with Lazarus, his responses to the woman surely have more to do with the people around him and what they will see and hear than they do with the direct interaction with her. He's letting his followers see this play out so they get to the woman's persistence and her final response.
Like with God in the story of Jacob, Jesus seems to be letting the woman continue to wrestle with him. Encouraging it even through his continued evasion.
I think this should be an encouragement to us. Especially to those of us who have a questioning nature. Us hard heads.
It should show us that God isn't afraid of us wrestling with him. He's big enough to not only handle it, but also seem to encourage it. He kept wrestling with Jacob through the night, though He could have ended it in a moment. And Jesus kept avoiding the woman, knowing she would continue to pursue. In both, God knew the persistence of each and let them continue.
I don't want this to be mis-construed - he's not encouraging us to question everything he does. He's not encouraging critics. But it does seem that he would rather us come to him with our struggles, our wrestling and to face him head on with them, instead of turning in other directions.
It's what healthy deconstruction should look like. Bringing our concerns to him and tackling them head on. In a manner that is determined to stay close to Him. To seek Him in the resolution.
That's worth remembering.
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