Our scripture reading today is at once challenging, disheartening and a gentle reminder of what is really important. Jesus and the disciples are in the region of Tyre and Sidon. They are not on home turf. They are in the land of the gentiles AKA – those who are not descendants of Abraham. Not long after arriving, a woman approaches Jesus and the disciples. She cries out“Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) But no one paid attention to her. Jesus kept walking with the disciples following behind him. She is after all a Canaanite woman, a gentile – there was no need to listen to her. But she will not be ignored. Again, she says “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) Still nothing.
She will not be ignored or pushed aside. Her daughter’s life is one the line. She knows about Jesus and what he can do. Again, she says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) The disciples are tired of this nagging and say to Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” Jesus knew his mission and it was not for her kind. Jesus says to her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And he keeps going. We might as well just say it like it is. Jesus is worse than rude. He dismisses her because of her race and keeps walking.
But she will not be ignored or pushed aside or told that she and her daughter’s life are of no account. She puts herself in Jesus path and kneels at before him saying, “Lord help me.” (Matthew 15:25) And still Jesus does nothing. Can you believe it? Our Jesus who heals. Our Jesus who is compassionate. Our Jesus who loves us back to life refuses to help this woman whose daughter is being tormented by demons simply because she is from the wrong place. And then it does not get better as the story progresses. He says, her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26) He calls her a dog.
Most people would have walked away. First ignored, then dismissed and then insulted. But not this woman. She says “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (Matthew 15:27) And finally Jesus see her – not where she is from – but her. A mother crying, begging for her daughter’s life to be restored. Jesus says, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:28) And in that moment her daughter is healed and Jesus mission and ministry changed.
I’ve read and preached on this story countless times. I’ve reminded myself that because of this woman’s persistence Jesus ministry changes – which it does. Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “through the Canaanite woman’s faith [Jesus] learns that God’s purpose for him is bigger than he had imagined and there is enough of him to go around. (Seeds of Heaven. p. 63)
Somehow this week I hear this story differently. I remember Jesus pushing the Canaanite woman aside and I think of the riots in Charlottesville. I watch as Jesus dismisses her and I think of the people who show up at protests using the hate filled slogans of KKK and Neo-Nazis. And when Jesus called her a dog and I am reminded of the divisions that are occurring in our own country and around the world. I think of the all the people who’ve been pushed aside because arbitrary lines have been drawn that say “you are in and you are out.” This gospel reading reminds me that racism isn’t new. It’s an enduring problem.
Dr. David Lose in his column In the Meantime writes “It’s way, way too easy for us to assume that God is on our side, looks like us, favors our positions, and endorses our views. Call it sinful, call it human, but let’s be honest: it’s really, really easy for us to imagine God is just like us. …And just as the Canaanite woman teaches Jesus that God’s mission and vision and compassion and mercy are bigger than what he may have initially imagined, so also might the Canaanite woman teach us the same at a time when synagogues are threatened, mosques are being fire-bombed, and neo-Nazis and white supremacists march the streets: every time you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you will find the God made manifest in Jesus on the other side. (Dr. David Lose, In the Meantime August 15th, 2017)
The good news, is that Jesus is changed by his meeting with the Canaanite Woman. Our Gospel reading, shows us a path that brings hope. A path to wholeness for communities. The Canaanite woman teaches Jesus that his mission is to share God’s love with everyone. No exceptions. The same is true today for us today.
As we watch the news and wonder what kind of world our children will grow up in. Pay attention to the signs of hope – for the signs that our world is changing for the better. There all the people who showed up to say no to racism, violence and hatred. The ministers, clergy, pastors, rabbis and leaders of many faith communities who formed a line of protection at the riots in Charlottesville. The people of Boston who showed up in droves to protest against the right wing free speech rally and whose voices drowned out the ones spreading hatred. The people of Vancouver who showed up to protest the anti-immigration protest and whose words of welcome were the only ones that could be heard.
This is where hope is found. The everyday people like you and me who gather and use their voices to stand up for a world where all are welcome. As we head into the new week, let our voices be the voices of hope. Let the message of the Canaanite woman who showed Jesus the way of love, challenge us to be hope at work in our community. Let us pray and work for a day when our world will reflect that hope in every place. By God’s grace may it be so. Amen.