Each Sunday as we gather at 9:00 AM for the We Make the Road by Walking Bible Study, we begin with this prayer: Creator, we give you thanks for all you are and all you bring to us for our visit within your creation. In Jesus, you place the Gospel in the centre of this sacred circle through which all creation is related. You show us the way to live a generous and compassionate life. Give us your strength to live together with respect and commitment as we grow in your spirit, for you are God, now and forever. Amen.
This past Sunday we engaged with some difficult scriptures. The session title was “From Ugliness, a Beauty Emerges.” The first passage we read was from Deuteronomy 7:
“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are about to enter and occupy, and he clears away many nations before you—the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations mightier and more numerous than you— and when the Lord your God gives them over to you and you defeat them, then you must utterly destroy them. Make no covenant with them and show them no mercy. Do not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for that would turn away your children from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But this is how you must deal with them: break down their altars, smash their pillars, hew down their sacred poles, and burn their idols with fire. For you are a people holy to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. “
Brian McLaren reflects: “[T]he Israelites finally reach the land their ancestors had inhabited four centuries earlier. There’s just one problem: others have moved into the land and made it their home for many generations. To possess the land, the Israelites will have to displace these current residents through a war of invasion and conquest. … This episode in the biblical story, more than any other, forces us to deal with one of life’s most problematic questions: the question of violence. … Is God part of the violence in the world, and is violence part of God? Or is God the voice calling to us in our violence to move to a new place, to join God beyond violence, in kindness, reconciliation, and peace?”
The New Testament passage we looked at was Matthew 15:21-29, and includes the narrative of Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite Woman and also the Feeding of the Four Thousand. In the first story, Jesus initially declines to heal the daughter of the woman, but her argument results in Jesus changing his mind. This feeding of a multitude is different from the feeding of the 5,000. In that earlier story we’re told that there were 12 baskets full left over (usually interpreted as representing the 12 tribes of Israel). But in THIS story, the crowd that has gathered are non-Jewish, and when Jesus repeats the miraculous feeding, there are SEVEN baskets of leftovers, “suggesting, it seems quite clear, the seven Canaanite nations that Jesus’ ancestors had been commanded to destroy.” [McLaren:49]
McLaren: “Matthew’s version of this story makes a confession: Our ancestors, led by Moses and Joshua, believed God sent them into the world in conquest, to show no mercy to their enemies, to defeat and kill them. But now, following Christ, we hear God giving us a higher mission. Now we believe God sends us into the world in compassion, to show mercy, to heal, to feed–to nurture and protect life rather than take it.”
— Sherman Hesselgrave