When I went to the Stations of the Cross on Friday I was reminded of a particular passages from the Letter to the Hebrews:
14 Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. 16 For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted.
This particular passage has always been a comfort to me. There is something reassuring to know that my God has undergone everything that mortal man must face- that he was our “brethren in every respect.” God is not asking us to do anything that He Himself would not do, or to face anything He would not face, or to suffer anything that He would not suffer. We are not the first to walk the path of life- we are merely following in His footsteps. A trailblazer has gone ahead of us and marked the path for us. And for me at least, that is a comforting notion.
The next passage is an entire chapter from the Book of Joshua:
When all the kings who were beyond the Jordan in the hill country and in the lowland all along the coast of the Great Sea toward Lebanon, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Per′izzites, the Hivites, and the Jeb′usites, heard of this, 2 they gathered together with one accord to fight Joshua and Israel.
3 But when the inhabitants of Gibeon heard what Joshua had done to Jericho and to Ai, 4 they on their part acted with cunning, and went and made ready provisions, and took worn-out sacks upon their asses, and wineskins, worn-out and torn and mended, 5 with worn-out, patched sandals on their feet, and worn-out clothes; and all their provisions were dry and moldy. 6 And they went to Joshua in the camp at Gilgal, and said to him and to the men of Israel, “We have come from a far country; so now make a covenant with us.” 7 But the men of Israel said to the Hivites, “Perhaps you live among us; then how can we make a covenant with you?” 8 They said to Joshua, “We are your servants.” And Joshua said to them, “Who are you? And where do you come from?” 9 They said to him, “From a very far country your servants have come, because of the name of the Lord your God; for we have heard a report of him, and all that he did in Egypt, 10 and all that he did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, Sihon the king of Heshbon, and Og king of Bashan, who dwelt in Ash′taroth. 11 And our elders and all the inhabitants of our country said to us, ‘Take provisions in your hand for the journey, and go to meet them, and say to them, “We are your servants; come now, make a covenant with us.”’ 12 Here is our bread; it was still warm when we took it from our houses as our food for the journey, on the day we set forth to come to you, but now, behold, it is dry and moldy; 13 these wineskins were new when we filled them, and behold, they are burst; and these garments and shoes of ours are worn out from the very long journey.” 14 So the men partook of their provisions, and did not ask direction from the Lord. 15 And Joshua made peace with them, and made a covenant with them, to let them live; and the leaders of the congregation swore to them.
16 At the end of three days after they had made a covenant with them, they heard that they were their neighbors, and that they dwelt among them. 17 And the people of Israel set out and reached their cities on the third day. Now their cities were Gibeon, Chephi′rah, Be-er′oth, and Kir′iath-je′arim. 18 But the people of Israel did not kill them, because the leaders of the congregation had sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel. Then all the congregation murmured against the leaders. 19 But all the leaders said to all the congregation, “We have sworn to them by the Lord, the God of Israel, and now we may not touch them. 20 This we will do to them, and let them live, lest wrath be upon us, because of the oath which we swore to them.” 21 And the leaders said to them, “Let them live.” So they became hewers of wood and drawers of water for all the congregation, as the leaders had said of them.
22 Joshua summoned them, and he said to them, “Why did you deceive us, saying, ‘We are very far from you,’ when you dwell among us? 23 Now therefore you are cursed, and some of you shall always be slaves, hewers of wood and drawers of water for the house of my God.” 24 They answered Joshua, “Because it was told to your servants for a certainty that the Lord your God had commanded his servant Moses to give you all the land, and to destroy all the inhabitants of the land from before you; so we feared greatly for our lives because of you, and did this thing. 25 And now, behold, we are in your hand: do as it seems good and right in your sight to do to us.” 26 So he did to them, and delivered them out of the hand of the people of Israel; and they did not kill them. 27 But Joshua made them that day hewers of wood and drawers of water for the congregation and for the altar of the Lord, to continue to this day, in the place which he should choose.
I am curious what the early Church fathers made of this passage. To me it seems to presage the admission of Gentiles into the ranks of the saved in the Acts of the Apostles. The Gibeonites knew that they faced destruction if they resisted the Israelites, so they chose to become servants instead. And in serving Israel they also served the Lord. In a way, this is true of Christians as well. We all face destruction on the one hand, but we can overcome this by subjecting ourselves to the authority of God. Yet we are more blessed then the Gibeonites, for we who so subject ourselves not only are spared, but are adopted into the Lord’s own family, and thus gain a share of the inheritance.
That passage also reminded me of this one:
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
I suspect that most people have trouble with this particular narrative from the Gospels. At first blush it almost seems as though Jesus is cruel or unloving. But when you see this passage in light of the necessity of humility in holding to our faith, it makes sense. In emptying herself of value and worth, the Canaanite woman saves her daughter, and presumably herself. For what she has emptied, discarded or lowered about herself was of the world- status and a perception of how important we are in life. In its place she set faith, her faith in Jesus and His power.
Here is some of St. John Chrysostom’s explanation of this passage:
With this intent did Christ put her off, for He knew she would say this; for this did He deny the grant, that He might exhibit her high self-command.
For if He had not meant to give, neither would He have given afterwards, nor would He have stopped her mouth again. But as He does in the case of the centurion, saying,I will come and heal him,Matthew 8:7 that we might learn the godly fear of that man, and might hear him say,I am not worthy that You should come under my roof;Matthew 8:8 and as He does in the case of her that had the issue of blood, saying,I perceive that virtue has gone out of me,Luke 8:46 that He might make her faith manifest; and as in the case of the Samaritanwoman, that He might show how not even upon reproof she desists: John 4:18 so also here, He would not that so great virtue in the woman should be hid. Not in insult then were His words spoken, but calling her forth, and revealing the treasure laid up in her.
But do thou, I pray you, together with her faith see also her humility. For He had called the Jewschildren,but she was not satisfied with this, but even called themmasters;so far was she from grieving at the praises of others.
Why, the dogs also,says she,eat of the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.Matthew 15:27
Do you see the woman’s wisdom, how she did not venture so much as to say a word against it, nor was stung by other men’s praises, nor was indignant at the reproach? Do you see her constancy? He said,It is not meet,and she said,Truth, Lord;He called themchildren,but shemasters;He used the name of a dog, but she added also the dog’s act. Do you see this woman’s humility?
Hear the proud language of the Jews.We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man;John 8:33 and,We be born of God.John 8:41 But not so this woman, rather she calls herself a dog, and them masters; so for this she became a child. What then says Christ?O woman, great is your faith.Matthew 15:28
Yea, therefore did He put her off, that He might proclaim aloud this saying, that He might crown the woman.
Jesus did not demean the Canaanite woman- he instead gave her a chance to shine and demonstrate her virtue and worth.