I like your optimism about the art of persuasion–through testimony, relationship, and reasonable requests–even though I have my doubts that Arizona Senator Jeff Flake will ever actually cross his party in a real way, even as he heads out the door of Congress.
As you shared in your piece at The Week:
Moments before Friday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee — after Flake announced he would vote for Kavanaugh — a pair of young women approached him in the hallways of the Capitol. The result went viral. As he stood in an elevator, they confronted him with their own stories of sexual abuse. “You’re telling all women that they don’t matter, that they should just stay quiet,” Maria Gallagher told him. “Because if they tell you what happened to them you are going to ignore them.”
“It certainly struck a chord,” Flake said later.
I’m reminded in this scene from Matthew 15 21-28:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
This is a hard passage, one that, at first read, doesn’t make Jesus look all that kind. He’s a Jew traveling through a Gentile area, but he doesn’t want to care for Gentiles? His behavior doesn’t seem to align with either the parable of the Good Samaritan or the Persistent Widow. First, he ignores her, then, he tells her that he’s not there for her, then, he insults her, then, he capitulates. All the time, she is vulnerably sharing her suffering, pleading with him, accepting his insults, and lying prostrate before him. This doesn’t look like a scene of a man showing compassion for a woman’s suffering.
Thus why it was the image I saw in video footage of Ana Maria Archila and Maria Gallagher, that this story from the gospel came to my mind: two women sharing their pain with a powerful man who could, with a word, help them or toss them aside.
So I’ve been challenged to re-think this passage. As I’ve shared elsewhere, when I get stumped, I look for silences: here I see right away that Jesus is not ignoring her but is instead simply not speaking. In his silence, his disciples answer for him: Send her away.
What a failure on their part. They have traveled into Gentile lands. Jesus has just (like, in the verses that appear just before this) told a crowd of people that it’s not what goes into their mouths that defile them but what comes out–that is, that the old barriers of ethnic division, as marked by clean and unclean food–are irrelevant. He tells his disciples, who are struggling to understand, that everything planted by God will persist. Their job is to tend those things. Then, a tender shoot appears before them–and they immediately fail to do their one job: care for her. Jesus is sarcastic when he says “I’ve only come to save the Jews”–after all, he has literally come, in this moment, into the land of Gentiles. Why would he have come here if not to minister to this woman? And he is sarcastic, too, when he says that dogs don’t get the children’s bread. The disciples have just witnessed the feeding of the multitude, in which Jesus showed that we should relate to each other out of abundance, not scarcity. Yes, the dogs can have the crumbs, because there is always enough. Everything about Jesus’ actions tell us he is here to minister to women EXACTLY like this one.
The lesson here isn’t for the woman, who came to the scene with faith. It is for the disciples, those men who never seem to believe that Jesus really means for them to do this work: to love expansively, to heal indiscriminately, to feed every hungry person, to end ethnic animosity, to listen to women. The story isn’t meant to humiliate her–she’s got more insight than the men who have been traveling with Jesus. The story is meant to reinforce, for those men, that the Jesus who feeds the hungry and declares every person, regardless of ethnicity or sex, worthy of God’s love, demands they do it too.
Jeff Flake has provided a short period of cover–like Jesus’ moment of silence–for other members of Congress–as stupid and shortsighted as any of the disciples–to step forward and hear women. Like the Canaanite woman, we know our concerns are serious and deserve attention. And this metaphor doesn’t extend forever; Jeff Flake isn’t Jesus. But maybe members of Congress will be reminded this week that they are, in fact, here to serve the most vulnerable among us.