Sunday, March 25, 2012

Passion and Spiritual Eczema

There's little more infuriating than having an unscratchable itch. Any sufferers from eczema will be more than aware of that itch which does not seem to be relieved even from scratching and yet the temptation is to keep scratching it more. The results are often quite horrendous. The only thing to do is not to give into the temptation of scratching that itch. One has to learn to suffer.

These days, of course, there are many over-the-counter remedies that can be used to soothe the itching that eczema causes and which calm the inflammation. One really does have to have these to hand otherwise that temptation to scratch just comes back and any good is undone.

So it is true with our habitual sins. None of us are at all perfect, but we are perfectible and indeed, if it is our firm intention to walk with God, we are in the process of perfection. Nonetheless, our imperfection has within it the potential for our bad habits to take over our lives. Very often we find ourselves back in the rut which our habitual sins have carved out for us and we go around the cycle once more. We scratch the itch until we are really quite sore and very damaged and in need of the restorative Grace of God to be renewed in us.

It is quite common for habitual sins to blight our lives quite profoundly and seriously. They can even cause us to despair of our very salvation, which is indeed a most serious situation. All sin is serious; some sins are most grave and require urgent attention; but all sins are forgivable - except one!

The good news about the Unforgivable Sin is that if you are really and honestly worried that you've committed it, then you haven't. The Unforgivable Sin is a continued wilful rejection of God's love and a hatred of the Holy Spirit. To some extent, all sin is a rejection of God's love, but for the soul that is open to His correction this is completely soluble. Those who can't be forgiven are those who just don't want to be forgiven either because they don't believe God, or because they hate Him. The choice to be forgiven is ultimately ours.

So what does this mean about our habitual sins? Well, they have to be recognised for what they are and worked on. The skill is in the recognition of old habits and doing something to counteract their effect. This takes some doing. The itch is deep, and insistent and we fall more often than we want. Yet, if our heart is true, we should not let this discourage us. We suffer much less than some.

Liturgically, we observe Passion Sunday, the beginning of the inexorable trip to Calvary. It's a time of mixed emotions for the Christian. One cannot have Easter Day without Good Friday and we cannot have Good Friday without Easter Day. Our Lord suffers, and suffers horribly voluntarily on our behalf. He knows that the only way to get to Easter Day is through Good Friday and so suffering is both inevitable and completely undesirable. How can any man want to be crucified?

Jesus doesn't want to be crucified - He is not some kind of masochist, as some modern critics rather ignorantly describe Him - but He does want to save from scratching ourselves to pieces for eternity. Hell is, after all, being left with an eternal, untreatable, irresistible and completely debilitating itch. This is where the fire of Hell comes in, for such sensation could only be accurately described as a burning. Crucifixion is the only remedy, and this is the price that Jesus is willing to pay on our behalf, freely, generously and lovingly. Those who wish to keep scratching their itch for eternity are free to do so.

The crux (literally!) of the matter is that Christ accepts something that He does not want to do, that no healthy human instinctively wants to do. The habit of humanity as an animal is to flee suffering, often at all costs. This is the origin of our innate impatience. Much of our sinfulness has its root in this primeval impatience. Anger often results from our impatience of another’s perceived faults, or of an inconvenience for ourselves. Sex occurs before marriage on the grounds that people cannot endure the physical separation from the other who excites them. Gluttony occurs when we cannot be patient with waiting for food or not having the food the way we like it. In fact much selfishness occurs because we are impatient with that which gets in the way of getting what we want. Impatience produces the itch – our instinct is to scratch. Stimulus – response, stimulus – response.

God made us more than just creatures of unthinking stimulus –response mechanisms. However, if we are to get to grips with the very nature of our humanity, then we have to rise above mere animal instinct, to rise above seeing ourselves as nothing more than biological machines that, if you press one button a specific response occurs. The reality of this transcendence is that of Passion in its original meaning of suffering.

If we wish to connect with all humanity as we are commanded then we must see the suffering in others and be impatient with their suffering to the extent that we suffer in order to help them. Christ may indeed have done something that no other human can replicate – the redemption and eventual salvation of sinners – but He has given us the pattern of taking up the cross to follow Him. This taking up of the cross is a very public thing. Those due for crucifixion were very visible, and to take up a cross willingly is also a very visible thing. If one is doing so to accept the concomitant suffering rather than for effect, then one is truly following Christ.

We should always take heart: if we firmly intend to follow Christ, then our habitual sins cannot prevent our growth and , provided that they are dealt with realistically, firmly with contrition, but also with recognition of our frailty as human beings, we can overcome them. However, this means accepting suffering and using that suffering to lift those more vulnerable up and out of theirs. We may have the tub of E45 cream – if we can’t reach the eczema on our own backs, why not apply it to the back of someone more needy than ourselves?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Crosser and Crosser

The tensions between the sacred and the secular seem to be growing of late. Many Christians feel that there is some anti-Christian sentiment in the British Government evidenced by the latest kerfuffle over whether the wearing of the Cross is a genuine and necessary expression of faith in the same way as the turban for the Sikh and the Burkha for the Moslem. The Government seems to be arguing that because the Cross is not an obligatory item of apparel that it is reasonable for an employer to demand that it be removed.

I've been asked to consider the issue carefully and produce a few thoughts which I may try to crystallise later. As an exercise in thought, I’m going to try to proceed scholastically here.I apologise unreservedly in advance to the Angelic Doctor for mangling his style so hideously.

The question is: Has an employer the right to demand an employee to remove their cross?

Objection 1: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it is not a requirement of the faith to wear one.

Objection 2: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it now only holds decorative value. Many people who wear crosses are not Christian.

Objection 3: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as claiming religious reasons for defying an injunction would set a precedent for other employees wearing inappropriate articles under the pretext of religious belief.

Objection 4: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it may cause an accident or prove unhygienic.

Objection 5: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it may cause offence to those who oppose Christianity.

Objection 6: It seems that an employer has the right to demand that an employee remove their cross as it may upset an environment that requires a certain amount of religious neutrality.

On the contrary : Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. St Matthew xvi.24

I answer that: While it is true that there is no obligation for many Christians to wear the cross, this is not true for all Christians. The Orthodox Church presents a cross to the newly baptised with the expectation that it be worn constantly as a reminder to that person of their faith, The Cross is of central importance to Christians who are reminded of the willing sufferings of Christ on our behalf.

The cross has always been a sign of controversy. At the outset, it was simply a gibbet, an instrument of execution. That the fact that the Christians adopted it as one of their symbols, amused, bemused and even scandalised the Romans and others who saw the sign as somehow subversive. Of course, it was a sign hated by the Moslems during some terrible times during the crusades. However, in the U.K. the cross has always been associated with the religion of the land, namely Christianity. While, the U.K. can and should welcome all of every faith and none into its society, it cannot change the past in which the central sign of the cross remains iconic: Charing Cross Hospital, the Red Cross, King’s Cross station, the Union flag comprised of the three crosses of St George, St Andrew and St Patrick.

These are part of our national identity as well as our religious identity. For many Christians, the religious identity is of greater importance.

The question of the rights of an employer cannot be separated from their responsibilities. If the employer has the right to ask an employee who sincerely believes to remove that symbol of their belief then what provision will they make for that employee to feel that their belief is being resected and that their sense of identity as a sincere religious believer remains fundamentally unchanged? This question requires an answer at both the general and the particular.

Reply to Objection 1: For those who genuinely profess the Christian Faith, the wearing of the cross may indeed be a requirement. For the Orthodox Christians it is indeed a requirement. Any employer needs to recognise the needs of their employees to have the freedom to profess
their faith as part of their intrinsic identity.

Reply to Objection 2: That non-Christians wear crosses means that they will have no objection to removing them. For the Christian, the fact that they do object to removing a cross, is sign that they have a genuine belief unless they demonstrate otherwise. An employer needs to understand the objections of their employee and act with due particular consideration rather than act generally.

Reply to Objection 3: Like the Burkha, the Turban and the yarmulke, the cross is a recognised religious symbol, in this case of Christianity which has a long establishment in the United Kingdom. Again, the employer needs to consider individual cases rather than issue general statements.

Reply to Objection 4: Unless it can be proved at the particular case that a cross is being worn in an unhygienic or dangerous fashion, there can be no objection on these grounds.

Reply to Objection 5: Christians have to put up with many unchristian ways of life being imposed upon them: Sex before marriage is presented as the norm via every media outlet; Gluttony is rife as evidenced by the increase in obesity; people are encouraged to believe that truth is relative; old folk are neglected; babies aborted. Christians are expected to tolerate these values which are contrary to the Faith and it is reasonable that this be done as far as possible (the horror of abortion is perhaps too much to tolerate) though the Christian has no obligation to accept these values as part of his lifestyle. Likewise, it is reasonable that the non-Christian should tolerate expressions of Christian values in the same vein. Advertisements are everywhere and no-one is expected to object to them, though many indeed find them disagreeable. Advertisements are part of modern life. Thus, if non-Christian values and advertisements are to be tolerated, so should Christian values and advertisements. The wearing of a cross is just as much an advertisement of faith as those who choose not to wear one. The tacit assumption thatGod does not exist should not be used as a reason for objecting to Christian values and symbols.

Reply to Objection 6: Religious Neutrality is a myth since every human being has a set of values and morals by which they live life and they exhibit these values in their manners and in the way that they dress. This is even true of those in uniforms since the wearing of a uniform takes on the idiosyncrasies of the wearer. The wearing of a cross is an outward expression of an inner faith and the symbol becomes a vehicle for the wearer to be aware of their religion as part of their identity. The employer has no right to change the identity of their employee.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Breadcrumbs and Theosis

Labour not for the meat which perisheth , but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed . Then said they unto him, What shall we do , that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent . They said therefore unto him, What sign shewest thou then, that we may see , and believe thee? what dost thou work ? Our fathers did eat manna in the desert; as it is written , He gave them bread from heaven to eat . Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Moses gave you not that bread from heaven; but my Father giveth you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world. Then said they unto him, Lord, ever more give us this bread. And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger ; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst . But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. And this is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing , but should raise it up again at the last day. And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day.

Today's readings from Mattins (Exodus xvi.4-15 & St John vi.27-40) would probably be better suite to Corpus Christi rather than Mothering Sunday. Yet both tell of the origins of the Mass as we know it. To realise the importance of the Mass, sometimes it's a good exercise to perform a little ecstasy. No! I don't mean taking illicit and illegal substances, nor do I really mean working oneself up into such a frenzy so as to induce an altered state of consciousness. I do mean that sometimes we need to be like one outside the Church looking in.

Of course there are lots of people who look upon the Mass as being quite a bizarre spectacle, including some Christians. After all, Sunday by Sunday, ever-dwindling groups of people appear to be turning up to see a bloke dressed in robes hold up a little wafer of bread, solemnly declare it to be the "Body of Christ" and then promptly distribute it to the folk around them. More scandalous to them is the Rite of Benediction when this little wafer gets stuck in a carry-case for people to kneel at and do this obscene thing called "adoration". For atheists it's just silly. For Protestants it's a scandal. What scandalises the Atheists is that Christendom is divided over the issue of this little wafer, and who gets to wave their hands over it, and the resulting tribal warfare has indeed brought shame upon the Church.

It all appears to be an utterly ridiculous, foolish and irritating waste of time.

But it isn't - at least not for the Catholic.

It is very difficult to explain to those from the outside looking in why this is so important, especially when many of them (a) restrict the number of words you are allowed to use, (b) are not really asking out of interest but to confirm their own positions and (c) are not really out to experience the Catholic Church as a mother.

The long and the short of it is that Mass is the way a Catholic experiences the love of God acting like a mother in nourishing His children with food that will make us grow into what He wants us to be. This seems a little odd, particularly in Western Churches where the taste-buds are regaled with all kinds of wonderful sensations. However, it is clear that He is not nourishing us for this world but rather the world beyond.

I freely admit that I find this world hopeless in itself and simply cannot believe the Atheist claims that this is all there is, that we are all predetermined bits of dust that suddenly grab this little thing called consciousness only to discover our own meaninglessness before evaporating into oblivious clouds of atoms into the far wastes of a cold dark universe. You may call my reticence a flight from reality, but it's just not the way that I understand not only the integrity of my own being as an amalgam of biological machine with a rational soul, but the integrity of every other person in this universe. It doesn't make any sense that I should become conscious, meet people, teach some of the most inspirational young folk, only for me, and they, these bright young things, just to wink out of existence in a few score orbits of a clod of matter orbiting a ball of burning gas. If atheists choose to believe that, fine, I'm not going to stop them, but how do they live life without meaning. Why is meaning important to a human being in the first place?

Of course, I believe in God, so I must concede that He wanted to create me and further, that He wishes to save me from the consequences of the fact that I can choose not to follow Him. If Christ is indeed right and that He is the key to some form of life beyond this one then it stands to reason that I am being invited to participate in this "other" life. While I admit that this could conceivably be a con by a supposedly evil deity, nonetheless I content myself to trust in what He wants is my good. The alternative is just as bad as the eternal bleakness of a cold, dead, Godless universe. So, not only do I believe in God, I also believe Him.

St John does tell us that one day we Christians shall be like him because we shall see Him as He really is. Again, we are given another promise that somehow we will have put on ourselves a new being. This is a gradual process in our lives and we must look and see how this process occurs. If we become like Him, then we have somehow to take into ourselves something of what He is and allow that to build up, transforming our flimsy, atomic being into something far more substantial and indivisible. In St john's Gospel, we hear Christ say very specifically "I am the bread of life" He also tells us that unless we eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink of His blood we cannot share that Divine manner of living, we cannot somehow possess within ourselves the substance of our Creator. We have to choose to become like Him!

Our Lord Jesus as St Thomas Aquinas' self-wounding pelican, that mother bird who in legend feeds its young on its own self exhibits characteristics of motherhood in providing Divinity of Himself to those who seek Him, but not for those who seek Divinity apart from Him. He does this via the sacrament of the Mass. In receiving breadcrumbs, God Himself. We can't get crumbs of God, because God is indivisible, so we receive Him into ourselves as He is by our own choice.

Of course, it would all seem rather incongruous, even ridiculous, to those outside, but there is perfect reasonable sense here which has its origin in believing what the Lord Jesus tells us in the Gospels. Of course, one is free to discount the evidence of the Gospels and wander one's own sweet way in life, but it seems quite clear that one can only gain anything of Eternity from the being of God Himself. A single breadcrumb can be worth more than the entire universe itself because it contains the very being of God.

Do I have a shred of evidence to back up what I'm saying? The only evidence I have is that which many discount as being inadmissible because it conflicts with their idea of the universe. I suspect that I may well be guilty of the same, but I do live in a universe which is filled with hope and meaning that can't readily be scrutinised by any who refuse to use Divine light to see.

We shall be like Him for we shall see Him as He really is, now in the Host where He may be adored in Benediction, then face to face as we grow into Him.

If this doesn't appeal to you, how do you find your hope in this universe?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Institutional entropy and Christian Chaos

No process is possible whose sole result is the transfer of heat from a body of lower temperature to a body of higher temperature.

Rudolf Clausius, German Scientist (1822-1888)
It is a direct result from the work of Clausius that the rate of change of Entropy increases in a thermodynamic system. While I appreciate that many of my readership are not scientists (indeed, I would hardly call myself a scientist) I hope that you understand sufficiently the consequence of the Second Law of Thermodynamics as stated above - Entropy always increases.

Entropy is the amount of energy in a thermodynamic system that is not available to be turned into specifically mechanical energy, or work. In running a car, the amount of energy used in making it go is significantly less than the energy that you put into it and this difference is always increasing, much to BP's glee. Much of the energy is wasted as heat or as noise, and, as a consequence, it takes more and more energy to keep a system going, i.e. preserving order, as time goes on.

The amount of entropy determines the amount of disorder and so, if this increases, the system becomes more and more disordered. The physical laws stay the same, but the system becomes less and less predictable. In short, we end up with more and more chaotic behaviour.

That's the Science, but let's look beyond Science and at our own experiences of living. Is it objective to say that our society is becoming more and more fragmented, or is this purely our own opinion? Life is surely never entirely predictable, but there is always some small scale on which we can be confident that we can draw reasonable conclusions from the data. In the mathematical sense of the word, Life is Chaotic and we wouldn't expect anything else. One might say that Chaos gives Life its beauty, but then Chaos is also perhaps responsible for its ugliness too. Chaos is like beer. The more you have of it, the happier you feel, but the more likely you'll fall over - or worse, given some of the scrapes my former students find themselves in.

And then there's God. God brings order out of Chaos. What does this mean?

As a Christian, I believe that God is responsible for why there is something rather than nothing, though there is no undisputed Scriptural evidence for how He achieved this feat though Science gives us some convincing explanations. However, we find ourselves in a Universe which not only had stuff in it, but there are rule - law of physics - which determine how that stuff moves and interacts, or appears and disappears.

But, God's ordering influence is not related just to the physical but to the social as well. If one believes in an active Creator, it is clearly His intention that humans have some ordered society and that that we have a modicum of freedom in the way we interact. I believe firmly that humans were created to share in God's life as independent rational beings in our own right. It is that independence that causes the entropy of society.

Pope Benedict XVI said in visiting Croatia that "individualism ... gives rise to a vision of life without obligations". One might regard such lack of obligation as a positive, however there is always a price.

In the soundtrack to Metropolis, Jon Anderson speaks of the Cage of Freedom:
Cage of freedom
That's our prison
Where the jailer and captive combine
Cage of freedom
Cast in power
All the trappings of our own design
Blind ambition
Steals our reason
We're soon behind those invisible bars

On the inside
Looking outside
To make it safer we double the guard
Cage of freedom
There's no escaping
We fabricated a world of our own....
I would suggest that the Cage of Freedom is the entropy of our society. The more energy we invest in an individualistic system, the more it will be wasted because the only unit in the system is the individual. If the waste energy dissipates as heat then only someone other than the individual will be able to benefit from its warmth. The more energy the individual loses, the less it will be able to move, to function, to live except trapped within our cages of freedom.

It is individualism that does tear us away from God. So many liberal Christians think it's a good idea to campaign for people to be able to do what they want and proclaim that it's God's law and that any adherence to traditional teaching is a restriction of the Holy Spirit. What they have to show is that their interpretation of the Holy Spirit is compatible with what is actually present in Scripture and Tradition as has always been received. Of course, they are free to reject all this interpretation, but they then lose the right to criticise others for failing to see their reasons for rejecting the corpus of traditional thought. They also cut themselves off from those Christians who have gone before and who died in the faith that they now reject.
Of course, many of the Revivalists and Quakers have a much higher view of the individual's capability of accurately interpreting the movements of the Holy Ghost than Catholics who follow St Peter's dictum not to go in for private interpretation and St John's warning to try every spirit to see if it be from God. What does one test spirits against if one prefers one's own authority of interpreting Scripture to that which has been handed down? That's not to accuse Quakers of ignoring the body of Christian belief - they don't - but it does lead a lazy soul into misinterpreting that idea for their own ends.
Of course, there are lazy Catholics too who disregard the principles but they're usually easier to spot.
If Christianity is to have any impact on this rapidly fragmenting world, then it can only do so by offering to a chaotic, rapidly atomic, world an ordering principle - a life-ring to those drowning in entropy. Christianity must emulate the Creator by seeking His order in the Chaos and presenting it as something life-giving and, while not immediately safe, pointing towards a greater stability. Of course, there is a multiplicity of people who call themselves Christian but we each need to scrutinise our lives and our beliefs carefully so that we can indeed present something of the ordering principle of God to a world that fears order because it encroaches on its freedom to walk away from God.
We're not going to be able to rid ourselves of Chaos but, as I said above, there is always local order within a chaotic existence which, if we let it, will allow us to be carried along more peaceably than if we try to control it. It is God who provides such an order in His Peace which passes all understanding. Perhaps this is what the Christian can offer the world - the Peace of God.
But then we would need to be Peaceable in the first place, wouldn't we?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Just a reminder

Our Archbishop Mark Haverland will be visiting the Diocese in April. He will be celebrating Mass at Central Hall, Westminster as part of the Diocesan Synod at 11 o'clock on 21st April. He will also be celebrating Mass in the archdiaconal parish in Rochester at 10 o'clock on 22nd April. He is well worth hearing speak, so feel free to come along and see what the Anglican Catholic Church is all about.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Lent II: Love and Sensibilities

Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. And, behold , a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying , Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil . But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

St Matthew xv.21
Sometimes we are tempted to see things only from the point of view of our Western eyes and believe that the time of Jesus is terribly far away from us now to the point where our way of thinking is superior to that of the time. The temptation then is to go with the flow and try and re-interpret everything in the light of modern philosophies which stem from more worldly concerns and cosier sensibilites. What do modern eyes make of this passage in which Jesus, in this modern worldview, seems to be a bit disreputable, snobbish, even racist!

I’ve heard some say that because Jesus is fully human, He is not fully aware of His calling and that this marks the moment where He realises the full extent of His ministry outside of the house of Israel. This is really a product of the “Jesus is nice” worldview that we seem to have rampant in society. It suggests that Jesus’ love for us must necessarily be affirming and cuddly and come with a cup of tea and a slice of cake. In so doing, it commits two errors.

The first is that it does tend towards the Nestorian viewpoint, separating the Divinity of Christ from His Humanity. These two natures have been at harmony in Our Lord from the moment of His Incarnation (et homo factus est). Seeing that it is Original Sin that causes conflict between the Human and the Divine, it would be a violation of that harmony and His Immaculate Conception for the Lord to presume from His Human Nature anything that was not communicated to Him in His Divine.
Added 05/03/12. Whoops! I've overstated myself here and there is a clear error in what I've written. See the comments. Clearly, Our Lord learned in the same way that we learn. This is just one of the wonderful things about Our Lady who gave the Lord such a firm start in the faith as she sat him on her knee and taught him. But what of His calling? That can only come through dialogue between Him and the Father, just as our callings are really only between us and the Father. The difference is that we often need the Church to assist us in discovering that call. For Christ, that intermediary is unnecessary.

Second, it fails to understand the context of the situation fully and give any depth to God's love for us and His hatred for Sin. Tyre and Sidon were renowned for being thoroughly dissolute and “wicked” places. They were both ports and the cosmopolitan nature of those ports made it very difficult for the covenantal purity of the Jews to be practised amid the temptations of the world of the materialistic merchants and the influx of foreign practices and strange ideas. Indeed, many Jews strayed far from the covenant and the good worship of God in order to be more "tolerant" of foreign practices. The people of these towns were not well regarded and rightly so.

So then, here is Our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ reaching out to the Jews that have lost their way and are now living dissolute lives when He meets with a Canaanite woman. Her reputation clearly precedes her as no-one wants to know her in the time of her trouble. When He does speak to her, Jesus tells her of His mission and why it is that He is here in these places of dubious morals. However, it is clear that she sees the Divine in Jesus – she worships Him, falling before His feet.

His response is an old Jewish proverb. It might just as well be uttered by a Pharisee whose knowledge of wisdom would have been comprehensive. “It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs” It certainly sounds harsh and rude, calling the woman nothing more than a dog even if it refers to the little pet dogs to which one would feed titbits at meal times. In so doing, Jesus confronts this woman with the reality of the Jewish position – the Law. It is a call for her to make a response. What responses?

Turn tail and leave disappointed? What would this say about the strength of feeling about this daughter that she loves so much that she seeks to cross social boundaries and reach out to someone who can help? Surely to do so would be to dismiss her own child.

Take umbrage and argue? If she really sees the Divine in Jesus, then she knows that this would be an act of false pride. If this woman is aware of the wickedness of the locale and of the history of the Canaanite people in relationship with the Jews, then she knows she hasn’t a leg to stand on. The Jews were given the land of Canaan by God and thus God has a preference for the sons of Israel on account of the covenant that He has with no other nation.

She does the only thing she can. She recognises the untenability her position in the eyes of a superior mind and reaches out in humility. She may be a dog but surely there will be a scrap that will fall from the table of the Children of Israel.

No. Jesus has not been nice to this woman, but He has loved her more dearly than we often appreciate. His is not a nice, affected, cloying, teddy bear love. His is an active love that causes something – makes things happen. This is a love that will cut evil out, challenge every pride and even insult our sensibilities in order for us to be brought closer to Him. In having her faith tested, the effects are more than just a healing: the woman gets more than she asked for. Her daughter is certainly made well, but there are affirmation and congratulations for her actions. Further, her actions are recorded in a Gospel for all of us to read and take as an example of true faith to heart. Gos wants the faith of this woman to be known to every Christian. That is only a part of His respect and love for her.

In the same way, we cannot expect God to be polite to us if our actions are causing us to fall away from Him. Indeed, naughty children used to expect a smacked-bottom from their Mum if they tried to run into a ditch, not a simpering word of “George, don’t do that” and letting them go in tolerance of self-expression. We can expect the Love of God to pull us up short in no uncertain terms, demolishing our pride, our “self-esteem” and our “self-worth” in the process. We have to respond to our transgressions of the New Covenant in humility like the Canaanite woman because in so doing do we see our true worth and true esteem in a God who does actually love us and will not let little things like our cultural “sensibilities” from getting in the way of that Love.