This blog was inspired by Matthew 15:(10-20), 21-28: The Faith of a Canaanite
Jesus did not say a word when the disciples asked him to send away the Canaanite woman. He says nothing. Perhaps he is remembering what he just taught his disciples.
In Matthew 15:10-28 we read how Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ‘unclean.’”
There were lots of restrictions on what to eat or not eat in the Bible. Lots of things were considered unclean: You could eat fish and goat’s milk. You could eat locusts and beetles. Some birds were allowed. But you’d better not eat a cuckoo, or a lapwing. No hares as in rabbits were allowed to be eaten. Fat was forbidden. That was to be burned on the alter for God. Snakes, snails, swans and pigs were off-limits.
So when Jesus talks about what really makes a person unclean and that it is not related to what a person eats, not surprisingly the Pharisees are offended. They are quite convinced that they are doing what God wants and are pleasing to him.
So here is Jesus, this time in the region of Tyre and Sidon, having withdrawn from his own country. Why has he withdrawn–perhaps he is in need of rest, perhaps he wants to spend time with his friends away from the needs of the crowds or the misunderstanding of the Pharisees–the Scripture doesn’t say.
What happens next, what Jesus says, has puzzled scholars and Christians for centuries. We want the warm fuzzy Jesus pulling us from the sea of our doubt. Yet this is a scripture that challenges us to understand faith from a different point of view. This pushy woman, a Canaanite, a person who Jews do not like and who does not like Jews, shows up on their doorstep, kneeling, begging for help.
Jesus says nothing, not a word. Why does he hold his tongue? Could he be demonstrating to his disciples how not to defile themselves through wrong speech? Could he be showing us saying nothing might be preferable to saying something that causes aggravation?
Yet, after the disciples ask him to send this woman away, he enters into conversation with her: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” Jesus tells her. She is persistent. She won’t take no for an answer. “Lord, help me!” the woman says. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs,” Jesus responds.
Nasty. Ugly. Humiliating. A woman talking to a Jewish man in public. Unheard of. The disciples say to Jesus. “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
Isn’t this how we all are? We find it easy to help the people we love, the people we know, the people who share the same customs and traditions. But this Canaanite woman shows us a love greater than that; she has come into their midst because her love is so strong for her demon-possessed daughter.
Today perhaps we’d consider the demon-possessed to be people addicted to drugs, booze, or sex, people who are sneered at by others. These people might be our sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives. Oh sure we want to help them, but don’t bring the drug recovery house into our neighborhood where we want peace from the worries and needs of others.
Yet when it’s not the OTHER in trouble but our own flesh and blood, we respond differently. We forget ourselves, even if it is but for a moment the way Peter did when he walked on the water towards Jesus. Out of love and an awareness of our inability to change things, we become desperate.
So we call upon a Mystery so much greater than our limited understanding. In the face of great difficulty when do we refuse to take no for an answer? We certainly might refuse to take no for an answer out of great love for a daughter or a son. When we are loving mothers and fathers, we will defend and protect our young to the best of our ability.
This strange woman holds her ground. You give even the crumbs to the dogs, she says. She dares to argue with God.
Perhaps Jesus wants to see what the Disciples will do about this woman. The Disciples aren’t in the mood for a Canaanite. She is abomination to them. Someone despised. They wouldn’t help her on their best day. Can they not have understood all that Jesus has been teaching? They urged Jesus, “Send her away, for she keeps yelling at us.”
Jesus goes right along with them. Perhaps a demonstration of what happens through association.
What happens if you follow your friends who tell you to come get drunk and try out dope or drugs to make you high, or hey grab a candy bar and stick it in your purse—Walmart can afford it—or let’s make fun of someone who is fat or old. Do you go along with them or do you think for yourself and consider what God teaches about the heart.
When Jesus goes along with the crowd of his disciples, he appears to be going against his own teachings. But the Mystery of this story points to something greater. It points to our need to act out of great love for everyone. Through such love coupled to the power of God, of Mystery, through Christ, there will be redemption.
In many ways. Jesus speaks as if he is a normal Jewish man with a poor opinion of people who aren’t like him. People who don’t worship the same way. People who look different. People who aren’t good enough. Can’t you see the satisfied looks on the Disciples’ faces. “You tell her, Jesus!” Of course, they’ve missed the point. If they had been not only listening to the teachings of Jesus, but also putting it into practice in their lives, they might recognize that their attitude about foreigners, about women, have not been planted by God in their hearts. These attitudes are alien from God’s inclusiveness. They separate us from Mystery, from God.
The woman could care less what they think of her. She demonstrates genuine concern for another, for her daughter. She is willing to be humiliated. She is willing to humble herself. Yes, Lord, You can treat me like a dog. But even dogs get the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.
God’s love is so great. The enormous persistent love of this mother, this parent, this strange foreign woman is united to the Mystery of love. She is the manifestation of God’s love. She represents the possibility of the redemptive power of love. She is doggedly persistent just as surely as God persists in offering us the love that brings us the healing we need for our minds and spirits and sometimes our bodies too.
The energy, the power of spirit is moving through the love of this woman. Her gender doesn’t matter. Her nationality doesn’t matter. Only her love for another person. Only that matters. And through that love, her daughter is restored.
When have you been like this woman, unwanted, in a foreign or strange situation, and yet something impels you to persist, to not give up? We probably have all been the unwanted man or woman in some situation. What impels us to overstep boundaries?
During a particularly difficult time, my prayers plugged me into grace, the Mystery of God’s presence. My new husband had suffered all his life from painful sciatica. He never complained but I could see it in his face. I was praying and even laying my hands on his back. I was desperate for him to feel better. One night, I dreamed I was in a flood. In my dream of the flood, I knew I was helpless. Nothing I could do was going to stop what was coming. Whatever was going to happen, I fully understood it was not my issue. As I was being swept away in the water, I heard the voices of my mother and father, both deceased, say: Everything will be all right. Everything will be all right. Not too much later, a disc in Philip’s back broke off and he was paralyzed. The doctors in Ashland decided to send him in the middle of the night to Lexington for emergency surgery. It was a hundred miles away and I didn’t know the territory. I was mortified. For him and for me. I was helpless. But I had those words from my parents: Everything will be all right. A Grace from God.
It was midnight, and though I tried to follow the ambulance in my husband’s 4-cylinder tinny Geo, the ambulance stormed through a red light and left me in the dust feeling lonely and scared. I got completely lost in Lexington. But even though I didn’t fully comprehend at the time, Grace was right there for me. And in my mind I heard again those words of comfort. Everything will be all right.
Eventually, I made my way to the hospital, where a stranger guided me to my husband who was in a hospital room. He was joking with the nurses.
Later, shivering in the surgical waiting room in the wee hours of the morning, a woman from a very poor family whose nephew had been in a 4-wheeler accident that had crushed his legs came over and wrapped her cardigan around me. Such grace. It was everywhere. Not only for Philip, but also for me.
Did I really hear the voices of my deceased parents? I cannot say, but I know this was a God- experience from start to finish. It was grace. During this time, I felt surrounded by angels, including, I might add a young black guy in a ghetto area of Lexington, drug-infested and frightening. Lost, I pulled into an all-night deli frantic to find the hospital. This young man looked to be on drugs, but he got himself together and gave me directions.
Love coupled with prayer opens the doors of the Spirit to intervene, to connect us to one another, to be Love for one another.
Jesus answers that foreign, desperate woman, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed that very hour.
Even when we are floundering in the sea of life, as was this woman, as was I, as we often are, our desperate calls to God are answered in many ways, many of them mysterious. Prayer of the heart plugs us into the Grace of God.
Everything will be all right.
• When your prayers seem unheard, pray about the courage and persistence of the Canaanite woman. • In times of crisis ask God for the gift of great faith.