|Pen and Ink Reflections||
How do you feel about being called a dog - and/or not quite human, or sub-human, unnatural, intrinsically disordered, not biological, unclean, heathen, pagan, infidel, heretic, wild, rabid, crazy, illegal, alien, or one of the long, long, list of ethnic, gendered, and other slurs some continue to endure today? So many people know this only too well. If you have more than one type of marginalised human identities then you may face this even more intensely. Today’s Gospel story puts such ‘dogs’ firmly in the centre of life and faith, in the figure of the one named as a Canaanite woman. Note well: this is someone not even given a name. For denying people’s true names and authentic identities is a game as old as time, and it is still well and truly alive today. Every day, there are people treated like dogs who, at best, can only aspire to the crumbs which fall from the tables of the privileged. This story therefore is still our story as a human race, and the light it brings comes from speaking in crumbs…
Jesus invites us to stand up straight, in the knowledge that we are loved and lovable – and in this story of the woman bent double he provides us with an icon, a window, onto that truth...
So which are we? Bent or arched? Burdened or arrogant? These are the questions posed by today's wonderful story of a healing in a synagogue on the sabbath day. It is by no means the only story about Jesus getting into trouble over his keeping of the sabbath, but it is surely the most touching.
The woman in this story is bent double. She is probably suffering from what doctors now describe as ankylosing spondylitis, a chronic progressive form of inflammatory arthritis that causes fusion of the spinal bones. Even today there is no really effective cure and people continue to be bent over. As a sufferer from rheumatoid arthritis, also chronic, progressive and inflammatory, I feel a deep sympathy for her plight. She has leant forward to relieve the pain, but the more she has leant forward the more the spine has fused, so that now after eighteen years all she can see is her feet. She converses with the ants and the earth, and those speaking to her, supposing they even bother to try, talk to her bent back. In her culture she would have been a complete social outcast. Her very physical being reflects the burden she carries - a burden of exclusion, poverty, and rejection...