‘Othering’ – 6 September 2021
Here is a pen and ink drawing by Rembrandt van Rijn.
Standing are a group of men, disciples, with Jesus in their midst. They are moving from left to right in the picture, so occupied with their own priorities. A woman has come among them on her knees, crawling towards Jesus like a dog. He turns towards her, but only partially, looking down on her. This is not a picture about welcome and acceptance, but concerned with a woman in great need finding her way towards what she understands as the only source of help for her problem. What will happen next? Well the gospel story (below) tells us, but in the picture here we see the hesitance of Jesus before she speaks and convinces him her needs should be attended to. Here she is ‘other’. The gospel tells us that she was a woman, a gentile, from Syrophoenicia, and a mother of a daughter who was greatly troubled. All of these things set her apart. To respond, Jesus will have to turn around and listen to her.
From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
We are very protective of our tribes, families, belief system, and communities. We are very protective of our church – whatever/whoever we believe our church is. Deep inside our ancient DNA psyche we still believe and act out the reality of the ancient myth that those who are outside of our tribe/family/community/church are monsters. This is the very nature of what it means to incarnate for us the notion that they are “other” than our selves. They are some other race, some other colour, some other belief system – literally from some other world. The mythic battle is the predisposition to shun and rebuke the “other.” To truly welcome the stranger, to truly open up our hearts to another, to be neighbour to those we don’t believe deserve our neighbourliness is to overcome our predisposition to shun and hurt the other.
Christ came into the world to save sinners. He came into the world to bridge the gap between the other and God. Christ came to embrace and to hold accountable all those who would not embrace the other.
We are to be at work healing history, living with difference, celebrating diversity and building together a peaceful commons in which all people can live. This is the work of reconciliation.
We model Christian Civility by exhibiting these behaviours: empathy, curiosity, teachability, learning from unbelief/where we disagree, and opening ourselves up to see where the lines are blurred. Here is where we discover not only the other person for who they are but we also discover where God may be speaking to us and seeking to help us find healing.
To do this we must zealously stay together, seek peace despite our disagreements, go deep into spiritual prayer, cultivate a spirit of appreciation for others instead of being threatened by them, and make room for others within our family, friendship, and community circles.
From the blog of Rt Revd C Andrew Boyle, 9th Bishop of Texas in The Episcopal Church
(read the whole thing here)