Here’s the wisdom that found me this week.
First the Gospel (or Good News)
Matthew 20:1-16 NRSV
20:1 “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard.
20:2 After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard.
20:3 When he went out about nine o’clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace;
20:4 and he said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.
20:5 When he went out again about noon and about three o’clock, he did the same.
20:6 And about five o’clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, ‘Why are you standing here idle all day?’
20:7 They said to him, ‘Because no one has hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard.’
20:8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, ‘Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.’
20:9 When those hired about five o’clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage.
20:10 Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage.
20:11 And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner,
20:12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’
20:13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage?
20:14 Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you.
20:15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
20:16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last.”
A Canaanite woman came down from the hills and pleaded, “Mercy, Master…My daughter is cruelly afflicted by an evil spirit.” Jesus ignored her. The disciples came and complained, “Now she’s bothering us. Would you please take care of her? She’s driving us crazy.” – Matthew 15:21-23
Jesus ignored her? This is a story in which nobody wants to pay attention to a suffering woman, even Jesus.
Spoiler alert: The next few sentences of the story reveal that Jesus ends up helping her, but that’s because she just won’t shut up. There’s no question that Jesus starts out ignoring her. Why?
This could be a story about Jesus’ divinity. Somehow, with the eyes of God, he had a purpose in ignoring her. Perhaps he knew that next, she would pester the disciples, and that then they would complain about her. Then Jesus would be able to point out the disciples’ lack of compassion, he’d heal the woman himself, and they would all go on to learn some important lesson.
Or maybe the answer is simpler. This could be a story about Jesus’ humanity. He ignored the woman because he was tired, fed up, annoyed, hungry or simply in a bad mood. The disciples complained about her because they were just as human. The woman stuck to it and demanded help because she was human too.
The healing that took place was divine. But Jesus’ initial lack of attention to someone in pain seems pretty human. Even Jesus got cranky.
Here’s the miracle. Healing triumphed. God paid attention. And in that moment, the God part of Jesus did too. He stopped ignoring her and paid attention. Even Jesus gets to grow and change.
Prayer: Dear God, help me to pay divine attention to people as you pay divine attention to me. Amen.
How can we blame you for what we have made of you,
war, panic rulings, desperate purity?
Who can blame us? Lord knows, we are afraid of time,
terrible, wonderful time, the only thing not yours.
Granted, we heard what we wanted to hear,
were sentenced, therefore, to our own strange systems
whose main belief was that we should believe.
You, of course, are not religious, don’t need any rules
that can be disobeyed, have no special people,
and since a god, choosing (this the myths got right),
becomes human, avoided choices
in general, which is why there is Everything,
even imagination, which thinks it imagines
what isn’t, an error you leave uncorrected.
The rumor you were dead, you, I think,
suggested, letting us go with only Pray
into what you had made. By which you meant,
I know, nothing the divine accountants
could tote up on their abaci click click,
but to widen like a pupil in the dark.
To be a lake, on which the overhanging pine,
the late-arriving stars, and all the news of men,
weigh as they will, are peacefully received,
to hear within the silence not quite silence
your prayer to us, Live kindly, live.
~ James Richardson ~