fter an interesting, and probably heated discussion with the Pharisees and Scribes about the importance of people over human developed doctrine, Jesus moves on to the Gentile districts of Tyre and Sidon.
As he arrived, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
When Jesus finally answered, he said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21-28)
How interesting. Jesus had just reminded the Scribes and Pharisees of the importance of caring for fathers and mothers without using God as an excuse. Now rather than caring for the poor woman’s child, loving his neighbor as himself, he calls her a dog!
How can our loving Lord do that?
Church Historian, Diana Butler Bass, preaching by Zoom to All Saints Episcopal Church in Atlanta, made some observations that I found compelling. She stated that in Judea of Jesus’ day men often prayed, “Thank God I am not a slave or a foreigner or a woman."
Jesus’ response followed the pattern of men of his time. And then, whether this was his intent all along or the woman’s faith and courage changed his mind, he healed her daughter.
Bass suggests that Jesus’ actions on this day, setting up and then knocking down the barriers that divide one human from another, may have set the example for what became one of the first Christian baptismal covenants, recorded by Paul in Galatians 3:28. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female, for all are one in Christ Jesus.”
Where in our lives can we live into Jesus’ actions and Paul’s teachings? Who do we need to welcome or heal or shelter or teach in the name of Jesus, regardless of gender or station in life or race or religion? I am convinced that Jesus, the Canaanite Woman and St. Paul knew that God is bigger than most people believe. I am convinced that God is bigger than I believe and that God cares about the people most of us would ignore or avoid. Life is really complicated now, we are frustrated, afraid, and angry. Most of us are doing our best just to live one day at a time, praying that Covid-19 will eventually end and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. The good news is that Jesus came that none of us will ever have to be the dogs under the table, or the ones who put another human in the place of the dog under that table.
May we all have in our hearts the love of Jesus and the courage and faith of the Canaanite woman.
Ben Alford is the former rector of Christ Episcopal Church in Albertville.