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Q & R: A Scottish reader asks ...

Here's the Q:

I hope you enjoyed a hospitable visit to the UK and trust next time you can make it to Scotland... Currently, I am enjoying reading your new book and very much appreciate your several allusions to the Christological hermeneutic and particularly in relation to the Canaanite woman in Matthew and Mark, which I feel has been a significantly misused or misunderstood portion of scripture. You specify on a few occasions (correctly) throughout the book that it was neither the setting, nor was there the time to go into the Christological view on a number of issues or verses in scripture (perhaps with the exception of Chapter 16 of course), but I would have been greatly interested in your perspective on this. The story of the Canaanite woman has been something of a revelation to me, something I've essayed on, recently preached on and had the joy of discussing with others. I'd love to hear what wisdom you have gained from this passage.

Here's the R:
Yes, my trip to the UK was delightful. I hope I can visit Scotland again before too long. It won't be in 2013, though ... my travel schedule is already full for the whole year. Maybe 2014?

The story of the Canaanite woman is so fascinating and important, as you say. I wrote about it at some length in my book Everything Must Change (chapter 19). I draw from a brilliant reading of the text by Grant LeMarquand which I first heard about through Brian Walsh. Here's a brief quote:

Matthew's use of Canaanite is surprising, first, because the term appears nowhere else in the New Testament, and second, because Canaanites were, strictly speaking, nonexistent at the time. To call someone in Jesus' day a Canaanite would be ... like calling a contemporary Norwegian a Viking....

The term ... evoked Israel's conquest of Canaan.... In this story, Jesus deconstructs the violent conquest narrative (of Exodus and Deuteronomy)and suggests that the kingdom of God takes a radically different approach to "the other." Matthew has already included non-Jews in his story in striking ways - the naming of Gentiles (and Canaanites) Tamar and Rahab in the birth narratives (1:3,5), the visit of the Gentile Magi (2:1-12), and the healing of a Roman centurion's servant (8:5-13). And Matthew will include Gentiles in an even more striking way at his story's end (28:18-20), affirming that Gentiles must be freely included in the circle of disciples....

Jesus here takes the old "destroy the Canaanites" narrative and dramatically turns it around. The reversals are striking. Jesus does not follow Deuteronomy's "no mercy to Canaanites" policy, but rather shows mercy to this Canaanite woman and her daughter. Seven nations are to be destroyed "totally": seven [baskets of food fragments] remain, a testimony to the fact that now Canaanites are not to be destroyed, but fed.... Jesus, an Israelite son, sees a Canaanite daughter not as a danger, but as a person in need, and heals her.

... Jesus seizes the old narrative shakes it, turns it inside out, and offers a new story that reframes a future radically different from the past.

Of course, his cross is an even more dramatic narrative reversal....

In a way, Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? is an expansion on that chapter from Everything Must Change. That often happens when I write ... I stumble into an area in one book that keeps calling me back for more exploration later on.

BTW - here's how that chapter from EMC ends:

To be a follower of Jesus in this light is a far different affair than many of us were taught: it means to join Jesus' peace insurgency, to see through every regie that promises peace through violence, peace through domination, peace through genocide, peace through exclusion and intimidation. Following Jesus instead means forming communities that seek peace through justice, generosity, and mutual concern, and a willingness to suffer persecution but a refusal to inflict it upon others. To follow Jesus is to become an atheist in regard to all bloodthirsty, tribal warrior gods, and to become a believer in the living God of grace and peace who, in Christ, sheds God's own blood in a manifestation of amnesty and reconciliation.

To repent, to believe, to follow ... together, these mean nothing less than defecting from Caesar's campaign of violence to join Jesus' divine peace insurgency.

The word "atheist" above reminds me of this song: