STILL UNDER THE TABLE
There was a time when….not all women were equal in Jesus’ eyes….when he too needed his vision corrected….and he allowed a woman to make him see his own, dare we say, blindness.
While it is true that Pope Francis has won the hearts of the people, perhaps he has not won their minds. While his leadership style is a model of mercy for all, where justice and equality is concerned he too, has a blind spot.
Like Jesus, in the story of the Syrophoenician woman, is Francis afraid or reluctant to remove the doctrinal ills that restrain the daughters of the church. Within the catholic tradition women are viewed as some kind of foreign refugees begging for a place at the tables Like Jesus, Pope Francis uses patriarchal rationalizations, a kinda, “I would if I could” reasoning,….even offering a suggestion of waiting until the time is right, until the matter is thoroughly studied for theological correctness, another 2000 years perhaps?
Jesus’ followers saw the Syrophoenician woman as an intruder. They tried to dismiss her. She would not be put off not even by Jesus’ self justifications. “It is not right to take the food of Sons and daughters and throw it to the dogs.” NAB (Mt. 15:26) Jesus proclaimed a banquet table and a kingdom that was all-inclusive yet he compared his attention to her and Gentile people like her, to casting crumbs to dogs under the table. She was quick to overturn his favorite divine banquet table metaphor. She used her words like a radical artist, and Jesus and his followers certainly got the picture.
Did the onlookers gasp at her brazenness? Horrified they waited for for a solemn apology or a stern dismissal. Jesus’ pubic chastisement of her was based on Judaism’s long held beliefs in a discriminatory status as chosen people of God. It was a theological “put down” but it did not deter this woman’s faith and determination.
Jesus realized apologies wouldn’t cut it. He needed to correct this erroneous judgement with action He publicly changed his mind, praised the faith and courage of the woman, and promised that her daughter would be freed of her infirmities. Thanks to this woman, Jesus was able to shed his blind eye. Now he could see the Kingdom of God with a much broader view. The story was meant to change the hearts, minds and actions of his early JudeoChristian followers who were dealing with just such challenges in their global world. Those early followers were able to include Gentiles and even women as equals in their christian communities. If Jesus could change. So could/must his followers. Perhaps in our time, Francis could with lift the patch that blinds the church from seeing women as equals.
That nameless foreign woman represents all the women and their children still suffering from exclusion and barred from full participation in the divine banquet intended for all. She reminds us of what is possible when women expect and demand more respect, and won’t take no for an answer.