Today we are eyewitnesses to a very interesting exchange between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. She was a despised foreigner, a Gentile, and a woman, a person a good Jew would not normally engage with in any way, or on any level. She would have known this, and she would probably have expected Jesus’ initial reaction to be exactly as it was, but her daughter was very sick. So she bravely comes to Jesus the healer for help, despite all the barriers that were in her way. As Jesus responds to her, his first words are brutal and shocking, not the kind of language we expect to come from Jesus’ mouth. But in her pithy response, she challenges his prejudiced thinking and she makes a bold claim to grace that forces Jesus and his disciples to see her with new eyes. Her daughter is healed and her faith is publicly recognised.
As Matthew tells us this story, he shows us how Jesus is challenged and surprised by the Canaanite woman’s insistent faith, and also his willingness to change his response. Rather than stubbornly retreating behind the fixed, conservative position he would have grown up with, he is willing to step outside his natural prejudice and to radically re-orient the way he sees her. As he heals her daughter, he praises her for her great faith and persistence.
This story celebrates radical inclusion. God’s love is freely available to everyone, regardless of colour or creed. We too have to be open to changing our views, seeing people as people, rather than giving them unhelpful labels, and to stop drawing our circles about who belongs and who doesn’t. Who are the Canaanites we unfairly dismiss today?
In peace, Mother Lynda