In the classic “text of terror” (a biblical genre identified by theologian Phyllis Trible) a woman is the victim of patriarchal oppression and/or violence and there is no one to protect or seek justice for her. In variations, the victim may be male or the perpetrator may not be human. Sometimes the perpetrator is God as in this week’s first and second readings, and almost in the third.
In the first reading, Joseph says that God, not his brothers, was responsible for selling him into slavery. It was all part of God’s plan for saving “a remnant” (a few) from a future famine. God had a plan and Joseph knew what it was.
In the second reading, the apostle Paul says God has yet another plan: staggering salvation as between Jews and gentiles. First the Jews, then the gentiles, then the Jews who didn’t get it the first time. Do the gentiles get a second chance? Maybe not. But God has a plan and Paul knows what it is.
God’s plans sound terrifying: innocent people are destined for misfortune and suffering so that God can be good to someone else.
We ought to go verrrrrry slowly when we hear someone talk confidently about God’s plan. They are probably talking about their own hopes and dreams, which may or may not be worthy and may or may not be of God. Jesus nearly ignores the only person in Matthew’s gospel who is said to have “great faith” because Jesus thought the plan was for “the house of Israel” to come first. Thankfully, Jesus was going slowly enough to see the woman’s faith and change his mind.
In the first reading, Joseph ultimately saved many people from starving during a seven year famine. But the notion that God planned to use slavery — evil, violence and injustice — to accomplish a good result is problematic. It leaves no room for an alternate universe of possibilities that might also have accomplished that good result without the evil, violence and injustice.
Faith, like the Canaanite woman’s faith, is what brings an alternate universe of possibilities into view.
Sharon Salzberg is a teacher of Buddhist meditation and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. In her 2003 book, Faith: Trusting Your Own Deepest Experience, she writes that faith is that quality which impels us to look for possibilities other than suffering or brokenness. It enables us to seek what is constant and whole and become connected to it.
The faith of the Canaanite woman saw in Jesus an alternate universe in which a foreigner could offer healing to her daughter. Having “great faith” she kept calling him until he could see it too.