Leader's Guide for The Master's Companion: A Christian Midrash
Table of Contents
Helpful Hints for Using and Creating Midrash with Young People
- Chapter 1: The Small Black Dog with the White Foot (John 4:1-30)--compassion for animals
- Chapter 2: A Night in the Garden (John 4:39-45)--significance of a name
- Chapter 3: Jesus and the Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:1-31)--an outcast experience
- Chapter 4: Jesus and the Pharisee (John 7:10-52)--a dramatic reading
- Chapter 5: Jesus and the Boy Who Was Possessed (Mark 9:2-29)--seeing through the lens of God's love
- Chapter 6: At the Foot of the Cross (Luke 22:39--23:49; John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:62-66)--grieving our losses, a ritual of remembrance
- Chapter 7: The Master Returns (John 20:1-29)--creating a midrash
- Chapter 8: The Mystery Continues (Mark 16:14-19)--the story continues
"Tell me a story," is a phrase that everyone understands. If you think about it, human beings are hardwired for story. Through story, we make sense of God's creation by capturing our experiences and putting them into narrative form. The stories are then kept alive when they are told to others who then retell them to future generations.
The art of storytelling used in this book is based on the rabbinic exegetical tradition of midrash. The learned men of the Jewish faith who studied the Scriptures yearned to extract more and more meaning from God's words. The holiness of God's word inspired these rabbis to create stories that pointed to the deeper meaning of God's message. The stories they told, as well as their process for expanding the story, became known as midrash. This storytelling technique begins with Scripture but expands and fills in the gaps within the biblical narrative.
Using stories from the Gospel as a basis, the imaginative tales in The Master's Companion are intended to help young people understand the deeper truths of Jesus' message and its relevance for their lives.
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- Midrash is an extension of the biblical story that springs from imagination and is not part of the canon of Scripture.
- Midrash must be faithful to the Scriptures and its context. Providing students with The Catholic Youth Bible, revised, or another Bible will help them see midrash within the context of God's word.
- Midrash often uses Scripture passages from other parts of the Bible to explain or solve inconsistencies within the text. However, the stories in The Master's Companion serve as an extension of the Gospel story, rather than resolve inconsistencies between the various Gospels' narratives.
- The purpose of midrash is to reveal the deeper truths of God's message and make them relevant to our time through an instructive story. For example, the stories in The Master's Companion are written from a contemporary perspective that values and loves dogs (a view not popular during the time of Jesus), emphasizing God's love and care for all of creation.
- It is important to be familiar with the cultural context in which the Scriptures were written when using or creating midrash. This may require some research on the part of the leader and students.
- Finally, using and creating midrash can help young people reflect and meditate on important events in the Church's liturgical cycle. Encouraging students to keep a journal of their insights can help them monitor their own spiritual growth.
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Chapter 1: The Small Black Dog with the White Foot (John 4:1-30)
This midrash introduces the question that underlies the whole book: "What if Jesus had a dog?" This imaginative story explores what might have happened if a small black dog, an animal shunned by ancient Jewish society, encountered Jesus.
To help young people develop a deeper appreciation for dogs and their relationship to humans, contact your local Humane Society and arrange a visit. Invite the staff to discuss the impact animals have upon humans and the positive benefits the staff derives from their work. If the Humane Society has a therapy dog team, ask them to talk about issues related to building the animal-human bond. After the visit have the young people share what they learned and discuss ways that they can support the work of the Humane Society. Another resource would be to contact the Delta Society, a national organization that certifies pets for pet therapy at http://www.deltasociety.org.
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Chapter 2: A Night in the Garden (John 4:39-45)
This midrash explores what might have happened during the two days Jesus spent in a Samaritan town after encountering the woman at the well. In the story, Jesus' action of naming the small black dog Merea--devoted companion--is the starting point for the transformation of the disciples' attitude toward Merea from that of "outcast" to a follower of Jesus.
In order to help students understand the significance of a name to a person's identity, have them search out various passages in the Old and New Testament to find instances where individuals were given a name by God or where their name was changed to reflect a new reality. First divide the young people into small groups. Then give each group a Bible and assign them one of the following Scripture passages: Genesis 17:5 (Abram becomes Abraham); Genesis 17:15 (Sarai becomes Sarah); Genesis 25:25-26 (naming of Esau and Jacob); Matthew 16:18 (Simon becomes Peter). Have the groups look up their Scripture passage to find out whose name had been given or changed by God and how that person's life was changed in the process. Students will have to read before and after their assigned passage to come up with an answer. When students have completed their search have them share their findings with the large group.
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Chapter 3: Jesus and the Canaanite Woman (Matthew 15:2-29)
This midrash stresses God's message that each human person is infinitely loveable and holy, regardless of their past actions. Jesus' encounter with Rahab gives her courage to seek him, and in doing so she finds Jesus alive in others.
In order to help students understand what it feels like to be an outcast or left out of a group devise a means of excluding a couple of students from the whole group. One idea would be to distribute WWJD (What Would Jesus Do) wrist bands to each student, with the exception of two or three students who receive a plain wristband of another color. Instruct the young people to each wear their wristband and then ask them to write a short paragraph on why they want to develop a deeper appreciation of who Jesus is and how he is present in today's world. When the students are finished, ask only the students who have the plain wrist bands to come forward and share what they wrote. Reward them for their good work. Meanwhile ignore the students with the WWJD wrist bands, regardless of their desire to share their observations. Make it obvious to the class that you are excluding a specific group.
Afterwards ask students the following questions:
- How did those who received the WWJD wrist bands initially feel? How did those who received the plain wrist bands feel? (Adapt these questions to the method you use to separate individuals from the group.)
- When only a few individuals were rewarded for their work, how did those who were not rewarded feel?
- What groups in our society are treated unjustly today? What individuals in our schools, church, and wider community are on the fringes and may feel left out?
- How can you work for justice and be a sign of Jesus' presence for others in a personal way?
Chapter 4: Jesus and the Pharisee (John 7:10-52)
This midrash expands on a nighttime encounter between a Pharisee named Nicodemus and Jesus. It explores Nicodemus' struggle to understand God's law as more than just outward compliance to a set of directives. Throughout the Gospels, Jesus challenges the leaders of the Jewish community to recapture the spirit of the Law of Moses. In this story, Jesus invites Nicodemus to look beyond the prescriptions of the Law and to recapture the spirit that invigorates the Law.
Have students prepare to read the midrash as a play, in costume if possible, with one student acting as the narrator. Assign parts to the rest of the students. Even though there are only a few major parts, those who are more reluctant to read can serve as members of the Sanhedrin, guards, disciples, or crowd. To set the scene, have the narrator read John 3:1-21 as a prologue, summarizing Nicodemus's first encounter with Jesus. Then have students read their assigned parts in chapter four of The Master's Companion.
Afterwards, break into small groups and have students answer the following questions:
- What did Jesus want Nicodemus to understand about keeping the Law and about what is necessary for salvation?
- What did Jesus have to say about suffering and how his disciples should respond to suffering in their lives?
- What does the Church teach us about salvation and being "born again"? (Note: see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1257-1274.) Help students understand that conversion is a life-long process not a one time event.
Chapter 5: Jesus and the Boy Who Was Possessed (Mark 9:2-29)
This midrash imagines what might have happened after Jesus cured the boy who was possessed by a demon. It highlights a young boy's childlike faith in Jesus, which challenges the disciples to see the world through the lens of God's love. In contrast to those who struggled to believe in Jesus' power to heal, Benjamin believed Jesus could not only heal him but also his lamb.
Young people are bombarded with images in the media that can cause some people to adopt a skeptical and cynical attitude. Jesus tells his followers that believing in him causes one to see the world through God's eyes. The following exercise helps young people see various life situations through these two different lenses. Create a PowerPoint presentation, or other visual display, of several images of poverty, homelessness, disabilities, illness, death, and so forth. Then ask the young people to consider the following two questions when viewing each image:
- Viewed through the lens of cynicism or skepticism, how would the person or situation in this photo be seen? For example: a homeless person might be viewed as lazy, shiftless, and taking advantage of the welfare system.
- Viewed through the lens of God's love, how does belief in Jesus and his teachings change the way this person or situation is viewed? For example: that same person would be seen as created in the image and likeness of God, in need of help, and deserving of compassion.
After viewing all of the pictures and discussing each set of questions, have the students write their observations in their journals and to list other ways in which they can view the world through the lens of God's love. Challenge them to implement at least one of their ideas as their time and talent allows.
Chapter 6: At the Foot of the Cross (Luke 22:39--23:49; John 19: 38-42; Matthew 27: 62-66)
Using selected verses from the Gospels, this midrash attempts to tell the story of Jesus' suffering and death from the perspective of his devoted companion, Merea. It provides an imaginary "dog's-eye" view of how a canine might react to her Master's suffering and death.
Being able to mourn the losses we experience throughout our lives is important for both young and old. It may be the death of a grandparent or other relative, the loss of a friend or group of friends, or even the death of a pet. Ritual is an important part of the grieving process. This may be particularly true for those who have lost a pet because our society does not honor an individual's grief at the death of a pet. Ask students to write a brief paragraph about a loss that they have experienced. After students have all had time to reflect, call them back into the larger group and ask them to create a prayer ritual that honors their loss and then close the session with the ritual the students have created.
Ask the students to keep the following guidelines in mind when they are creating a prayer ritual:
- Decide what will be needed to create a sacred environment for the ritual. The following is one example: A table covered with a white cloth set up in the center of the room with various symbols of our faith, such as a crucifix symbolizing Christ's suffering and death, and some flowers (one for each participant).
- Make sure the ritual has the following elements:
- a call to prayer--this could be an opening prayer composed by the students or the sound of a bell or another instrument.
- a reading from the Gospels--such as a resurrection account or a story illustrating Jesus' compassion.
- a short period of reflection--this could be a reflection written by one of the students or a period of silence.
- a responsorial or intercessory prayer--this could be taken from the Psalms (e.g., Pss 121, 130, 146) or be prayers of petition written by the students.
- some action performed by the participants to ritualize their loss-- One example would be to invite participants to come forward, one by one, and to prayerfully place their flower in a vase of water as a way of remembering their loved one who has died or the loss they have experienced.
- a closing prayer--this could be a blessing written by the students or taken from the Scriptures (see Numbers 6: 24-26).
- Instruct participants as to the role they will have in the ritual. Determine who will lead the prayer, who will read the readings, and how participants will respond in prayer and action.
Chapter 7: The Master Returns (John 20:1-29)
This midrash fills in the gaps in time between Mary's encounter of the risen Jesus in the garden and Jesus' appearance to the disciples in the upper room. It provides a fuller picture of what might have occurred on the day of Jesus' resurrection.
Have each student create a midrash filling in the time between the morning appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:11-18) and the evening appearance to the apostles (John 20:19-23). Refer to the section on "Helpful Hints for Using and Creating Midrash with Young People" for assistance in defining midrash for the students and giving them parameters for creating their story. Select individuals to share their story with the rest of the group.
Chapter 8: The Mystery Continues (Mark 16:14-19)
Looking beyond the Gospels to the early Church community, this midrash tells an imaginary story of a gathering of believers who come together to listen to Peter tell about Jesus' life, death, and resurrection in the upper room where Jesus and his disciples had shared their last meal together. However, this story is abruptly ended leaving the student to ponder "the rest of the story."
Have students create an oral, group midrash. Begin by having each person take a few minutes to think about how they would end The Master's Companion. Designate one person to take notes and outline the student's ideas on a white board or newsprint as they are presented and ask another to serve as timekeeper. One by one ask each student to tell how they would end the story. Allow each person about sixty seconds to share their portion of the story. After one person has shared briefly, ask the next person to continue the story where the person before them ended. Continue this process until everyone has had a chance to contribute to the rest of the story.
Ginzberg, Louis. Legends of the Bible, New York, NY: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1992.
Schwartz, Howard. Reimagining the Bible: The Storytelling of the Rabbis. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Webb, Stephen H. On God and Dogs: A Christian Theology of Compassion for Animals. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1998.
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