The Power of Small Conversations
Among the most challenging stories in the Gospels – challenging to our sensibilities of manners and inclusion – is the one where Jesus calls a woman a dog. She’s described in the Gospel according to Matthew as a woman of Canaanite ethnicity. This, itself, may have been an outdated, derogatory label, a throwback to the Israelite conquest of the Land of Canaan centuries earlier.
Jesus meets this woman while trying to take a break. He heads out of his home territory of Galilee off to the foreign lands of the Phoenicians who live along the Mediterranean coast. He’s no sooner gotten there than a local woman comes to him crying for him to have compassion on her. What’s interesting is that this woman, though she’s not of Jesus’ ethnicity, uses a title for him that only his fellow Jews would know; “Son of David.” She’s connecting him with the political power of the great King David who fought her ancestors.
Jesus ignores her (we can only speculate why) and the disciples try to goad Jesus into sending her off (with or without satisfaction is unclear). Jesus makes his ethnic bias clear, saying (to both her and the disciples?) that his mission is limited to the people of Israel.
It’s a mission from which he is seeking rest – that’s why he’s gone over the border.
She’ll have none of it. She comes now with a title that the Patriarch Moses would have recognized, calling Jesus “Lord” and identifying him with the God of the Exodus, who led Israel against the Canaanites in the first place.
Jesus seems to double down on his refusal saying; “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and to throw it to the pet dogs.”
The woman remains unfazed. “Yes,” she answers, “for the dogs eat the pieces that fall from their master’s table.”
It’s almost as though she’s made a calculation: “I might be a dog, but I’m YOUR dog.”
From the perspective of Christian theology, what matters in all of this is this woman’s laser focus on the identity of Jesus. She knows who Jesus is (Son of David and David’s Lord) and she knows he’s got something for her and that, whatever it is, it will be enough.
It’s this resilient combination of conviction, hope and trust that Jesus identifies as “great faith.”
This was the point of my message on Welcome Sunday.
On my way to that point, however, there was another observation; that this life-changing conversation happens between two people in a place in-between. The woman is identified by Matthew as a foreigner, but it’s Jesus who’s not in his homeland and yet she welcomes him with titles that his neighbors would recognized but never use in his honor.
This account of Jesus and a woman who wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, reminds me of a story I heard a few years back of the musician Daryl Davis. As it happened, Mr. Davis’ story and that of his odd hobby of collecting robes of former members of the Ku Klux Klan was reprised last Sunday night in a seven minute piece on NPR. If you’ve got 20 minutes, you can hear a longer version, called “The Silver Dollar Lounge here. Davis’ story stretches our sense of what’s possible and calls us to pay attention to the power of small conversations between two people.
Here at a university, we have a nearly unending opportunity for conversations. Valpo has attracted people from all sorts of backgrounds and experiences. We might not be as divided as Davis and the Jerry Lee Lewis fan with whom he began talking. But we can use this time together to learn the power and joy of conversation for the day when it becomes the gift we can bring for others.
Would you like to talk? We can find a time here.
Aug. 23, 2017
Rev. James A. Wetzstein serves as one of our university pastors at Valpo and takes turns writing weekly reflections.
- Archives of Devotional Writings from our Pastoral Staff
- “Some Lent!”
- (Your vocation here) of people
- A Point of Privilege
- A season of anticipation
- Advent = Hope
- All will be well
- Are we willing to cross the road for one another?
- Better Together
- Can we learn to be happy?
- Carrying the COVID Cross
- Come and See
- Did Jesus really suffer?
- Doing without in a life of plenty
- Don’t miss this moment
- Exiles with Vision
- Fear not!
- Feeling at Home
- Finding Purpose in the Journey
- Finding Words for Times Like These
- Forgiving others – and ourselves
- Getting ahead with Jesus
- Getting down on Jesus’ level
- Have yourself a merry little Christmas — somehow
- Holy Week and Taking Out the Trash
- Holy Week: The aid station late in the semester
- Hopes & Dreams vs Life in the Wilderness
- How glad we’ll be if it’s so
- I almost slipped
- In a time of uncertainty, these things are certain
- In praise of plans B … C … D …
- In Praise of Skeptical Disciples
- In the midst of grief, God will bring life
- Is there such a thing as being too forgiving?
- It’s a Three Day Weekend!
- It’s In the Bag
- It’s What’s Happening
- Killing off our future selves
- Lessons in fire building
- Let us work for real wellness in our communities
- Life Is a Highway
- Lilies and leaves and whatever else is beautiful
- Living in the Present
- O Lord, you know I hate buttermilk
- Of Fear and Failure
- On Christian Unity: When we’re not one big happy church
- On the Bucket List
- Pray and Let God Worry
- Preparing for the world to be turned rightside up
- Recovering from an Epic Fail
- Reformation calls for examination
- Remembering among the forgetful
- Seeing beauty in brokenness
- Signs of Love
- Starting Small
- Still in the storm
- Taking a Break from the Relentless
- Talking ourselves into it
- Thankfulness leads to joyfulness
- The Art of Holy Week
- The Funny Business of Forgiveness
- The Greatest of These is Love
- The Magi: Exemplars of Faith and Learning
- The Power of Small Conversations
- The Power of Taking a Sabbath
- The Spiritual Gift of Hindsight
- This can’t be done alone
- To be known
- You will be in our prayers this summer of 2020
- Ventures of which we cannot see the ending
- We had hoped
- What do you do with your anger?
- What is your base reality?
- What to do after you find your voice
- What to do on the day after
- What we know and what we don’t know
- When bad things happen
- When joy and sadness live together
- When the promise of resurrection is hard to believe
- When you offer up your broken cup
- Where God will be found
- Where is the good shepherd carrying you?
- Wilderness Journeys
- Year-end time management: Keeping the main thing the main thing
- Your Valpo roots will help you grow into your future