May 10 2012

La Lengua de Lazarus: The Syrophoenician’s Minority Report

Original post at http://lenguadelaz.blogspot.com/2012/05/syrophoenicians-minority-report.html

            I’m still searching to find the words to describe how I feel after general conference. I’ve already shared a few posts yet still do not feel like I know how to respond nor do I feel that my words have properly expressed that. One thing I keep going back to is hope. I am clear on one thing and that is I have hope in God. I have hope in the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit who is the perfect example of love and community. I am also very clear in realizing that I nor anyone else is God. I have also seen that the church, specifically the United Methodist Church is not a prefect reflection of God. If anything, the UMC is a reflection of humanity in that we are broken. Despite our greatest efforts to reach perfection, we fail.
            In searching for answers, a good place to start is scripture. By searching for answers in scripture I do not mean that I went searching for answers in words or verses, but rather in stories. One story in particular that has been very heavy on me this year is the story of the Syrophoenician woman. This year I wrote two papers and one sermon on the story yet I still keep coming back to it. For those not familiar with it I would encourage you to take time to read it (Mark 7:24-30). In the story a foreign, gentile woman comes to Jesus asking him to heal her daughter. Jesus dismisses her, even calling her the equivalent of a bitch. She is not deterred and instead of taking offense or walking away she catches him of guard with her humility. She says, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. She does not seek elevated status or even to be recognized as human, she simply wants her daughter to be healed. Amazed by her humility, Jesus says that because of her response, her daughter is healed.
Jesus telling the Syrophoenician woman to "talk to the hand"
            As I said, I’ve spent the past year immersed in this text reading it in many different translations including the Greek. No matter how many times I read it I always seem to take something from it. There are many ways this story speaks to me today but the main point I want to draw from it is that Jesus was taught by a woman on the periphery. This story also appears as the “Canaanite woman” in Matthew’s Gospel (15:21-28) and both of the stories have multiple references to this woman being on the periphery (woman, gentile, and the mother of an unclean child) and the event even happens on the periphery (while Jesus is traveling between Tyre and Sidon). Jesus is educated yet he uses a cultural argument as to why he should not help the woman and he is bested in his argument. He says she is not worthy of food meant for the children yet she says she’s not after the food, only the scraps. As we see in Jesus feeding the multitudes before and after this story, Jesus’ scraps are more than capable of feeding any who are hungry. Realizing that the woman has both made a valid argument and shown her humility, her daughter is granted healing.
            In this story, it is not Jesus doing the teaching but rather it is Jesus who is receiving a teaching. He was not being taught by a great scholar but rather a woman on the periphery. I think about those present at general conference. There were many on the periphery of the bar who sought to be heard, yet they were not even given the scraps from the table. They were not asking to be raised up to a high level, only to be recognized. Even a proposal to "agree to disagree" which sounds like mere table scraps to me, was shot down. When it came to the restructuring policy it seemed that there were few voices from the edge who were being heard. Finally, look at who served as delegates. The majority of the conferences chose the best of the best to send to general conference. Even those from central conferences were successful business men and women or government officials. What would the decisions have looked like if instead of the best of the best, we chose to send a few people from the periphery? What if we sent the Syrophoenician woman as a delegate? What if she was the chair of a legislative committee? Would the outcome still have been the same? Which do we think would have been a more biblical based outcome?
            As I mentioned in previous posts, I’ve lost hope in the United Methodist Church. Please do not confuse this with loss of hope in God or even loss of hope in United Methodism. I have not lost hope in United Methodism; just what is now considered the United Methodist Church. I still hope to be ordained as a United Methodist elder and maybe at some point I will be able to return to general conference as a delegat. All of the votes at general conference are done so as a majority vote. The irony is in that Jesus and his followers were a minority among Jews. Peter probably would not have been able to call everyone together and receive a majority vote for many of the decisions he made. I have been fortunate enough to be a part of some wonderful ministries that are a minority among United Methodists right now. These are ministries such as Epworth and New Day which seek to do ministry in the margins. I am fortunate to daily meet with people who are homeless, homosexuals, refugees, or ex-cons. These are all people who are on the periphery and are not represented by the majority. So I say to general conference, you can have your majority vote. As for me, I’ll stick with the Syrophoenician woman and her minority report.



About the author

Brandon Lazarus

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