Matthew 15 has one of the most troubling passages in the Gospels in my opinion. Verses 21-28 have an exchange between Jesus and an unnamed Canaanite woman. She comes to Jesus asking for Jesus to heal her daughter. But Jesus’ first response is to flat out ignore her. As she persists, Jesus then responds by saying that he was only sent to the “lost sheep of Israel” and then tells her what sure sounds like he is saying that to do what she was asking would be like taking food and throwing it to the dogs. Now, there are lots of ways that this passage has been interpreted in the past to try to make it more palatable and several of those interpretations have some strong validity. However, on first glance, an honest reckoning with this passage makes one have to ask if Jesus was having a really bad day that day or what was going on with him. After all, this was the same guy who hung out with the outcasts, who talked with the Samaritan woman that no one else would, who rescued the woman who was going to be killed for adultery, and so forth. Even if there is a palatable interpretation of this, honest reckoning opens the door to want to ask Jesus, “What the heck?”
Honest reckoning to me is like crossing a snow and ice covered bridge. One needs to do it in order to move forward but it is often more difficult than the path leading to the bridge. We’ve all seen those signs “bridge ices before road” right? But the bridge still needs to be crossed. It can be difficult and it takes more time but it is what is needed.
There have been several experiences for me of honest reckoning in the last 24 hours or so. First, my seminary alma mater, Princeton published an open and thorough report of a committee tasked to examine the institution’s historic connections to slavery. From their introduction:
They examined the relationship of the Seminary’s founders to slavery, the economic base of the facilities, and the participation of faculty and board members in the American Colonization Society. The historical audit report, which is the product of more than two years of research, uncovers contradictions and complexities in the practices, attitudes, and theological convictions of the Seminary’s early faculty, students, and donors. It clearly depicts both profound moral failings and courageous acts of faithfulness to the Gospel.
This research provides not only a critical reckoning with our past, but also a basis for conversation about the ongoing legacy of racism that is rooted in this history. As a school related to the church, Princeton Seminary has a responsibility to reckon with its history in a theological framework, making confession and repentance when necessary, recognizing the human failures and frailties that damage our relationship with God and the world God so loves. Confession of sin and repentance have always been vital to the health of a spiritual community. Our hope is that as we engage in a season of discussion of this report we will collectively consider the best ways to respond faithfully, leading to greater reconciliation.
This report is working on crossing a bridge – honestly reckoning with what has been, naming it, and opening it up to the light to allow the light to bring healing and reconciliation.
Then this morning, I saw the ad that has gone widespread from Gillette as they shift their slogan from “The Best a Man Can Get” to “The Best Men Can Be.”
The video is a powerful series of vignettes digging into the ways that men need to cross bridges from where we have been to where we need to be. Going from places where bullying others was a sign of toughness and objectifying women was the norm (among lots of other themes in the ad) to a place of building up, honoring, and being more than we have been. Yes, I know ultimately that Gillette is trying to sell razors in this, but this is a message that needs to be spoken.
And these reminded me of an action by my denomination’s general assembly this past summer to work toward honest reckoning with our denomination’s past relationship with the native peoples of North America. The PCUSA took an action to encourage churches to look into what people used to live on the land that churches and buildings now stand upon and to name what was done to native peoples. It is a small step onto the bridge, but it is a step (with many more ahead). If anyone has a question of whether there is still work to be done in this area, we need look no further than politicians making jokes about the Wounded Knee massacre.
What I also find interesting in all this is that two of these actions come from the church and one from business. Reality is though that these messages need to be spoken and lived by both. The church needs to be at the forefront of leading men to be the best they can be. Not just strengthening a past idea of what masculinity was thought to be but growing into men who fully and equally honor those who are also created in the image of God. Yet too many voices in the church have been silent in the face of the #metoo movement over the last several years. And businesses (and other churches) need to be a part of the honest reckoning with the histories of people of color in our country.
We cannot ignore the stories of those who were here before anyone from Europe arrived and those who were brought in chains. We cannot simply think that since those events are in the past that they have no effect today. Did those events happen in the past? Yes many did. But the effects and the scars are still with us today.
Nearly 54 years ago, a group of men and women attempted to cross a bridge in Selma, Alabama only to be met with brutal violence as they sought to peacefully protest segregation and civil rights abuses. Their steps remind us of the steps that we still need to take today, to honestly reckon with our past so that we can cross over into new futures.