Monthly Archives: August 2011

Did Jesus Actually Change His Mind?

My enthusiastic response to today’s Gospel and the subsequent homily I heard caused a bit of a stir due to the controversial statement made that Jesus can and did change His mind. Before studying theology, I would have found this statement problematic. I mean, Jesus is, well, Jesus. Being divine, it would seem to follow that Jesus could not be influenced by other humans in any way. However, the fact that Jesus was influenced by what others had to say, and could have His mind changed just like you and me, does not take away from His divinity. Rather, it illuminates Jesus compassion, love, and openness to the outcast.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus withdraws to region of Tyre and Sidon where He is met by a Canaanite woman who asks Him to heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon. Jesus at first ignores her plea and then answers, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” When the woman persists, He replies again, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Yes, this is shocking- it seems rather rude of Jesus to ignore this woman’s cries for help and basically, call her a dog. Instead of getting angry with Jesus and telling Him off, however, she says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”

This passage emphasizes Jesus’ humanity. Though fully divine, Jesus was also fully human. Like all humans, He did not have foreknowledge of the future. He experienced the same physical and emotional pain we all experience. Like many of us, he hung out with a crowd- the apostles. His apostles were men of their time- they did not listen to this woman, first of all, because she was a woman. Second, because she was a Canaanite and a pagan. Jesus feels His ministry extends only to the Jewish people.

However, Jesus, and here goes to show His superiority to us, is not as close-minded as the apostles. He listens to the woman, allows her to dialogue with Him, and allows Himself to be enlightened by her response. Seeing her great faith and persistence, Jesus changes His mind. He realizes He was not sent just to help the people of Israel, but all people. He decides to heal the non-Jewish woman’s daughter.

What this shows is that Jesus’ own understanding of His ministry evolved over time, while always doing the will of the Father and never straying from it. It also shows that God is not an almighty being lording His power over us and demanding strict obedience. While we must always recognize  God’s omnipotence and superiority to us, we also must see that God welcomes us to think and ask questions. We can engage in dialogue with God with faith in God’s love and compassion, and with belief that God will answer us, just as Jesus answered the Canaanite woman. A wonderful example of this is found in the Old Testament. In Genesis 18, Abraham pleads with God to spare the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, saying “Wilt thou indeed destroy the righteous with the wicked?” God does not get angry and Abraham, and say “Hey, I’m God. Who do you think you are questioning me like this?” Instead,  God agrees to spare the city if fifty righteous people are found there, and in the end, with Abraham’s persistence, that number is whittled down to ten.

So, now the message here is not that every person’s request for reform be granted or that the Church should embrace every new insight, or way of doing things. However, it does show that we cannot be close-minded and we must always be open and ready to listen, as Jesus was. As the priest giving the homily today pointed out, this passage does not necessarily say we must start ordaining woman or married men, but it shows that Jesus was open to change.

Change need not be a threat to faith. When Jesus’ ministry was expanded beyond the Jewish people, He did not become less of a savior. His disciples did not suddenly flee and say, “Oh my God, he’s healing non-Jews, this guy is crazy!” Rather they still followed their beloved Teacher. God worked through a poor Canaanite woman, someone who was not been very well liked by the Jews of Jesus’ time, to bring about an important turning point in Jesus’ ministry. So, we must ask ourselves, who is God working through today to bring about an important turning point in the life of the Church and the entire world? And, we cannot simply look in the places we are most comfortable. We must be open to those whom we least expect.

Hello from Divinity School- Clearing up Misconceptions about Students of Theology

First, I would like to say hello everybody. I realize I have not posted a blog in a while. That is probably because I have been extremely busy moving to Cambridge for graduate school.

And now I will answer the question I know you want to ask me. The one I always hear after people say, “She’s studying what?” If I had nickel for every time I got this one, I could relinquish my scholarship and donate so much money to Harvard that I would have a building named after me. OK but seriously…

No, I am not becoming a nun. And yes, I am sure I am not becoming a nun. No one is pressuring me to enter the convent. While I greatly admire the work nuns do, I would like to get married and have children someday. Yes, people do that and study theology, believe it or not.

The reason I need to blog about this is because its an assumption that I feel needs to be corrected for many reasons beyond just that it may deter potential boyfriends. First of all, not all priests and nuns are theologians by trade. Nuns have degrees in a wide variety of areas and work in occupations relating to these areas: education, medicine, law, English literature, etc. The Jesuits at Fordham University, where I received my undergraduate degree, are not all theology professors- they taught history, psychology, English, music, and a wide variety of other subjects. Theology majors are no more likely than pre-med majors, history majors, journalism majors, etc. to be considering a vocation. I think seeing that priests and nuns have interests other than reading the Bible and, praying makes people less intimated by spiritual vocations.  I was fortunate enough to be raised in a household where priests were regularly guests at the dinner table, so it did not scare me to talk to a priest or have a priest as a professor. However, this was not the case for many of my peers. I distinctly remember my first theology class at Fordham taught by a priest. Some of the students were completely flabbergasted that he mentioned going out for drinks with some colleagues one night. They could not believe that someone with a religious vocation could have a glass of wine, laugh, and enjoy the company of his friends- just as you and I do. Priests and nuns are not just priests and nuns- they are our teachers, our classmates, our friends. And, after all, Jesus did not turn that water into soda, did He?

Secondly, the assumption that all theology students are on the path to ordination or to the convent greatly diminishes the vocation of the lay theologian. We should celebrate the changes of Vatican II that encouraged ALL Catholics to read the Bible, opening up the intellectually and spiritually stimulating task of biblical exegesis. Theology is open to all people- and it seems like many do not realize this. Just because someone does not feel called to the priesthood, does not mean he or she cannot benefit from studying theology. Discovering new theological insights, asking important theological questions, looking into new ways to interpret Scripture, finding ways that the Gospels, written so long ago, can still speak to us today, exploring ways to dialogue with those of other faiths, etc. do not require a commitment to celibacy. Lay theologians, provide an important ministry to the Church, to their communities, and to the world.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge that the study of theology does not require one to be “so super religious” (whatever that actually means). In fact, there are atheists who attend divinity school (though their work would be considered religious studies). Yet, even among believers, many of us have doubts. Personally, I know that I have had dark periods where I have lost my faith. I also am not a  model Christian- you should hear the words that come out of my mouth when I am frustrated! After leaving Fordham, I did not go to mass for most of the summer. I will end this blog with a situation that happened a few years ago which broke my heart. A dear friend of mine once feared telling me she did not believe in God because she thought it would upset me as a theology student. However, I think the fact that I have studied theology is what makes me feel not upset about this at all. As a divinity student, I do not see my faith or my Church as superior to that of others, and in fact, I think we have a lot to learn from people with other beliefs or with no belief at all. I attend Harvard Divinity School because  I love how, before classes have even began, I have already interacted with people of so many different faiths and backgrounds.

So, no, I am not becoming a nun. No, I am not obligated to be super religious- in fact, I am perfectly free to change religions or leave religion all together if I choose and I would still be accepted here. And no, I do not regret that I decided not to apply to law school.