The text bugs me!

I could make a pretty long list of the scripture passages that make me uncomfortable, that my spirit does not resonate with, that I just plain don’t get. One of them is in Matthew 15, the story entitled “The Canaanite Woman’s Faith.”  This story does not depict the Jesus I know. The Jesus I know is extravagant with his grace, lavishing it on all those who humbly place themselves before him. He is harsh at times, with the proud, the unrepentant, the stubborn ones who refuse to see or hear him. But those who seek mercy from him find it. Always. Until this story. It grates me. There are many explanations offered for Jesus’ attitude and words in this story… some think he’s being sarcastic; some think he’s simply illustrating a point to his disciples and knows this woman can “handle it.” To be blunt, I think he sounds like a jerk, and I don’t like it. I know that sounds disrespectful and irreverent, but that is partly my point in this post.

My point here is NOT to (try to!) explain the meaning of this passage. My point is this: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the Bible and its purpose and its form and its nature; and I have come to believe that it is not supposed to be a clear and concise, linear message. It’s supposed to bug us! It’s supposed to irritate and grate and keep us off balance. When we think we’ve got it figured out, it throws us off again. When we’ve got our systematic theology neatly packaged in our textbooks, scripture explodes the formula once again.

I’m a committed Christian pacifist, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. I will die before I will kill another human being– I believe that is the way of Jesus. But here comes the Old Testament, with all its blood and gore (some of it even God sanctioned!). It keeps me off-balance, keeps me from becoming too comfortable in my theology. Keeps me asking questions and wrestling with my faith and theology. I feel like Jacob, wrestling with God, “Give me what I’m asking for!”

So God’s Word makes us uncomfortable and keeps us wrestling with God and God’s Truth… the same, I believe, is true of the Church. We have each other to keep us from becoming too comfortable. We argue and rehash the text. We argue systems and theologies and doctrines. We make each other mad, make each other uncomfortable, tick each other off. And I believe it’s supossed to be that way. Sometimes I wish it weren’t. Why does it have to be such hard work? Wouldn’t we get more done in this world if we didn’t spend so much time on “the issues?” Instead of arguing Jesus, we could shut up and BE Jesus.

I don’t know, though. If we had it all figured out, if we lost this sense of confusion and struggle, if it was all cut-and-dry, figured out and published… would we really get more done? …or would we sit in our comfortable chairs, waiting for the world to come to us? One author I’m reading right now, Timothy Johnson, says we learn Jesus in praxis. We have to practice His life in order to learn the depth and breadth of who he is. He defies explanations and busts out of any boxes we try to put him in. The only way to know Him is to put one foot in front of the other in daily life.

Maybe it’s good to be irritated, then. It keeps me walking.


5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Robert Martin
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 16:35:15

    OR… you could just go with Titus 3:9… Recognize that there are some things that are going to divide and cause us to quarrel… maybe the question of pacifist vs. just war is not one that we should be asking “which is right”? Maybe that Canaanite woman story (I know the one “Even the dogs get the crumbs”) is meant, not to present a right or a wrong but a contextual situation. I don’t know the answers… but maybe we’re not even supposed to ask those questions.

    For me, that story of the Canaanite challenges me to be careful who I judge, that those I may on the surface deem unworthy may be able to show me up in my own faith…


  2. thefuerstshallbelast
    Oct 06, 2008 @ 22:29:40

    Somehow I knew you were referring to Matt. 15 before I even clicked on the tag-link. Isn’t that funny?!

    That text bothered me too, for a long time. I finally eneded up doing an extensive study on it and feel much better now. In the end, though, I think you’re right – the Bible is not averse to making me feel uncomfortable.


  3. Mike
    Oct 08, 2008 @ 00:39:51

    Maybe it’s a luxury afforded to me—and not to you—that the hermeneutics in my career are limited to secular, at least not sacred in the canonical sense, texts. Because I know then when I do, as an interested non-expert, attempt to turn my hand to the task you describe here, understanding scripture, I’m as hard flummoxed as you admit to here. Fortunately for me, no one expects me to have the answers when it comes to this stuff.

    And perhaps that’s why I have a much easier time letting the middle-sized stuff go—the issues, I think you say here.

    I’m not much of one for the issues in a broad sense. I can embrace the big picture of Jesus and his mission and message, and only deal with the issues when they hit me where I live. I don’t have to deal with the issues in their generalities, no one asks me what I think of them, at least in a professional or educated capacity (which, you know, of course, doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions).

    And I do get uncomfortable sometimes, as well. When my “big stuff” (Jesus, being [like] Jesus, living that passage of scripture that I think pretty much sums the whole thing up) intersects with the “medium-sized” stuff (your issues) and the “small stuff” (details of day-to-day life) in ways that cause a disconnect. When I find myself asking, Where is the path of justice, mercy, and humility among all these conflicting views on the issues (my own among them) and how does my view and my goal of walking that path intersect the particulars of this situation?

    At times, a frustrating question, indeed.

    But enough about me….

    For you, my friend, I pray that you embrace the wisdom and discernment that are already within you and continue to seek them in greater measure. Be(com)ing comfortable, after all, with your discomfort, willing to experience it for what it is and interrogate it for why it is, reflects a commitment and character I think we can all envy. It may sound trite, but irritation produces pearls. Put another way, the pebble in our boot gives us something to focus on outside of the miles we hike and the hills we must climb along the way.


  4. Galen Kulp
    Oct 11, 2008 @ 18:29:34

    I find that I’m constantly confronted with things in the Bible that make me question. Lately it’s been things having to do with historical issues… where it appears that the Bible doesn’t jive with the history that we have. It forces me to study. My hope is that in studying (i.e. asking, seeking, knocking) I’ll find the answers.


  5. Tim
    Oct 14, 2008 @ 02:10:15

    Appreciated the post and the comments above.
    Although it’s certainly more natural to prefer to know then not know, our nature tends to domesticate and take for granted the ideas, experiences, knowledge that we hold mastery over.
    So is it better to not know? Does it create a greater dependance to God and potentially increase our faith? It could but …
    Kierkegaard encouraged this type of faith being content with the idea of traveling, struggling, journeying, etc. CS Lewis debated that but also found the virtue of journeying as well. He differed on the ending of that but I don’t want to digress too much.
    So anyway, glad to be sojourning with you.


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