The bible is full of wonderful stories, but this is one of my favourites. Just imagine what was going in this woman’s life that she had the nerve to do what she did in a time when men and women didn’t associate much and men had the final say. When asking didn’t work she demanded something of Jesus. Nadia Bolz-Webber (@sarcasticluther) tweeted this morning, “Personally, I like a text where Jesus commends the faith of a sass-mouthed woman.” Whether she’s sass-mouthed or persistent, what happened that day changed everything.
For some it this is a hard text because Jesus is downright rude. There is none of that compassion that we are used to seeing. The grace in this text doesn’t come from him that for sure.
Imagine what it was like that day. Jesus and the disciples decided to go to the region Tyre and Sidon which is the traditionally the land of the gentiles – those who are not the people of Israel – descendants of Abraham. Not long after arriving, a woman approaches Jesus and the disciples. She starts saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) But no one paid attention. Jesus kept walking and the disciples behind him. She was after all a Canaanite woman, a gentile – there was no need to listen to her. Again “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) Still nothing.
But she will not be ignored. 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) Finally the disciples are tired of this nagging and say to Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” We might as well just say it like it is. Jesus is rude. He is guilty of racism. His mission is not for her kind and he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” And he keeps going.
This is why I love this story. She will not be ignored or put off or told to go home without first getting what she came for. 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. And then he compares her to dog. He says, her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26)
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 in that moment that Jesus is changed. Jesus us healed. On the surface this an ordinary healing story except that it does not follow the normal pattern of healing stories. Truly the person healed in this text is Jesus. He has a new understanding of his calling. 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 [...]Faith works like a lever on him opening his arms wider and wider until there is room for the whole world in them, until he allows them to be nailed open on the cross.” (Seeds of Heaven. p. 63)
The woman in our story was praised for her faith. But it is not only her faith that was amazing but her persistence and intelligence. We owe her thanks because she opens Jesus’ heart to a new way of living and being in the world.
Through her faith is that Jesus is changed. This happens all the time. People come into our lives and leave a mark on us. They change our hearts and set our lives on a new course. It happened with Jesus and can happen with us. It happened to me. When I was at school in Toronto, if I had a lot of work to do for the following week, I would go to the 8am service at the Anglican Church on the corner. It meant that I got to go to church and had more time to finish my assignments. It was a quiet service and usually there were no more than 10 people there. I loved the peace of this service. One Sunday, just before the sermon began I heard the doors of the church bang open and close. And into the peace and quiet of this service walked a homeless man. He said loudly, “Sorry I’m late.” He sat down in the pew and the smell of someone whose life was spent outdoors filled street filled the sanctuary. And I confess that I resented his presence in that service. He disturbed the peace of my morning.
My heart was closed. I couldn’t see that just as I needed a place to pray and worship – so did he. The sermon came and went. The ushers were taking up the offering and were just about to pass the man by, when he began searching through his pockets. Gradually he pulled out every coin he had and put it in the offering plate and then apologized for how little it was.
In that moment I knew that I was wrong to be resentful. I was closed minded and judgmental. In short I looked on his appearance and did not my brother in Christ all I saw was a street person. I needed to be disrupted and have the peace of the morning disturbed. I had grown so used to seeing people living on the street that I lost my compassion. He taught me, reminded me that we are children of God. He who showed me the importance generosity and the importance of giving back to God.
Just as the Canaanite woman helped Jesus see the world in a new way, he helped me. And that is our calling as a people of faith. To be disturbed and disrupted so that we can see something new. It is in learning from one another that we see the face of God and in respecting the diversity of those in our midst that we truly become the body of Christ in the world. God calls us to reach out beyond ourselves and those who are like us to learn about generosity, faith, hope and love from all those who have a story to tell. You never know when your actions might change someone’s heart or when yours will be changed. In expanding our world view we are taking steps that will bring healing and wholeness to our communities, countries and world. Thanks be to God. Amen.
We are going to close by blessing one another. Turn to page 349 in your hymn books. As we say, pray these words look at those around you and bless them as the bless you.
May the Christ who walks on wounded feet
walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands
stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart
open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet,
and may everyone you meet
see the face of Christ in you. Amen.