Grace, Peace, and Mercy are yours from the God of abundance. Amen.
It is a joy and an honor to be sharing the Word today at All God’s Children. My name is Amy Hanson, I am an MCC transfer clergy member. I was originally ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I work full time as staff chaplain at Regions Hospital in St Paul. It is truly a gift to be a part of this community of faith.
I love Gospel stories where the main character is a woman. It means that what is going on so significant, that the patriarchy begrudgingly allowed it to be included. And that is exactly what we have going on with this Gospel text.
To set the stage, this part of Matthew’s Gospel is a long series of healings, pronouncements, and miracles. We have Jesus healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, and just last week, we heard about Jesus walking on the sea. After today’s Gospel story, we have Jesus going on to Galilee to do more healing and to feed an additional 4,000 people in another one of his miracles.
Jesus left Jerusalem and went on to Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that region came and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David, mydaughter is tormented by a demon!” But Jesus ignored her. And his disciples came to Jesus and said, “Send her away because she keeps shouting at us.” Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep 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 responded, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” Then her daughter was healed instantly.
It is necessary to unpack this text a bit more to understand just how revolutionary and forthright this Canaanite woman is in her persistence. First, there is the obvious fact that she is a woman talking to a man. This alone would have been frowned upon in this day. The disciples indicate their irritation and frustration with her desperate shouting. Next, she is from the land of Canaan, a Canaanite. She is not part of the People of Israel. She is “other.” Finally, unlike many people in Matthew’s Gospel, including the disciples themselves, she recognizes that Jesus is someone revolutionary. That he is in the world to do a new thing. She calls him “Lord”, which is usually used to refer to God the Creator, and she calls Jesus, “Son of David” which implies his kinship in the line of the great King David.
But Jesus doesn’t respond in a way that most of us would find satisfactory. This is one of those Gospel stories that I refer to as “Jesus is being a jerk again.” At first Jesus completely ignores the woman. And the disciples urge him to send her away, because she keeps shouting. Nevertheless she persisted. Jesus says to the woman, “I was only sent for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. I was only sent to tend those who are part of the people of Israel, God’s chosen people.” Nevertheless, she persisted. She kneels before him, and begs plaintively, “Lord, help me!” Jesus answers, “It is not fair to take what is promised to the children of Israel and feed to other people.” And the woman retorts, “But Lord, even the dogs get to eat the crumbs from the masters’ table.” And somehow this final plea gets through to Jesus. He responds, “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.” And the narrator tells us that the woman’s daughter was healed instantly.
What happened in this moment? Did the woman’s persistence for her daughter’s healing change Jesus’ mind? This feels like a slippery slope to go down, given that we all have at one point or another prayed without ceasing for something that may or may not have come true. Is it that if you have great faith, good things will come to you? This doesn’t feel true either. I meet many people in the hospital with great faith who still suffer and experience grief and loss.
What if in this moment, the woman recognized that the blessing of Jesus was not just for the people of Israel, but for all people? It is really remarkable that she recognizes Jesus as Lord, and Son of David, when the disciples don’t seem to get it yet. The woman recognizes that Jesus’ kingship is not just for the house of Israel, the chosen ones. It is for all people. She has so much faith that even a “crumb” of Jesus’ power is enough to heal her afflicted daughter.
Who is God for this woman that she could persist in this way? She really is a model for us. As the beloved community of MCC, how often have we felt like the good news of the Gospel, the promise of Jesus, and the reign of God belongs to someone else? God for the Canaanite woman is a beacon of hope in a dark world. As the MCC, God’s promise belongs to US! God’s abundant life belongs to US! The Canaanite woman teaches us that the abundant new life that comes from Jesus is too big and too much to be contained by human structures of who is in and who is out.
This Canaanite woman can teach us something. “This Jesus news is too abundant to say that I must wait.” She is reflecting Jesus’ own ministry back to him. The Canaanite woman calls out the misguided idea that God’s love is only for a chosen few.