The “Archie Bunker” School of Morals
Sunday’s Gospel includes some words from Jesus that are among the most difficult of any to make sense of. He just seems mean and ugly to our ears. Click here to read it.
We are told that a “Canaanite woman,” (meaning a woman not of Jewish descent and a religious pagan) has been following Jesus in an attempt to have him cure her demon possessed daughter. On other occasions, Jesus happily honored such requests. However, this time he responds “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When she continues to press, Jesus doubles down saying, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
It pulls us up short because it is not what we expect to hear from Jesus, and it is not in line with his teaching and practice as we see it elsewhere in the Gospels. And in today’s climate of racial and ethnic tensions, we are even more attuned to these issues.
It is even worse when we remember that at this time, Jesus and the disciples are in the region of Tyre and Sidon, which is far to the north, in modern day Lebanon, and an area heavily populated at the time by non-Jews. Jesus deliberately went there to carry his message to the people there, and does he now teach that they are unworthy ‘dogs’?
I think of this as the “All in the Family” school of moral teaching. If you are old enough to remember that TV series (on air from 1968 – 1979), you will recall the central character, Archie Bunker, was one of the most bigoted and politically incorrect characters ever on prime time TV. His racism and sexism were constantly on display but the strategy of the show was to use comedy to show the ugliness of the sexism and racism. By saying out loud those things that many thought but didn’t say, he helped us see where change was needed. We loved watching Archie, but no one wanted to be Archie!
In a similar way, I think Jesus was saying what many of the disciples were actually thinking, and in doing so, exposing its ugliness. That can open a real teachable moment, a pivot point in our attitudes. Remember, Jesus did heal her daughter!
There is plenty of ugliness, racism, sexism, classism in our society today. Listen for those moments when the ugliness is in full view and seek God for real change — first in ourselves, and then in our culture.
The column appeared in the August 20, 2023 edition of St. John’s eNews. Click here for the complete issue.
If you are reading this at a different time, you may click here for the current eNews.