Today’s readings contain the Gospel reading, Matthew 15: 21-28, which is one that I am afraid is a bit hard for my modern sensibilities. I feel for the woman, who is clearly an outsider, and I feel for her poor daughter. This woman goes to Jesus, mindful of the cultural walls that should have made her mission impossible (remember what Deuteronomy says about Canaanites!), yet,still, she seeks Him.
“At that time Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, ‘Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But Jesus did not say a word in answer to her”If I am entirely honest, the silent response of Jesus as this woman pleads for her daughter really bothers me. It is a terror in my soul not to be noticed by the beloved, to seek Him and not have him respond. But this woman remains undaunted, she continues to cry out to Jesus! Was His silence a non-response? Even the disciples want Jesus to respond to her:
“Jesus’s disciples came and asked him ‘send her away for she keeps calling out after us.’ He said in reply, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But the woman came and did Him homage, saying, ‘Lord help me.’ He said in reply, ‘It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said to her in reply, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour.”First he is silent, and then he reminds her that she is not one of the children, in fact, she is a dog. My modern, and very superficial and thin-skinned sensibilities are insulted for this woman!. I really want to explain that Jesus really did not mean to call her a dog. I want to imagine he was smiling and winking at her when he said this, knowing that he was really going to teach the disciples a thing or two about inclusiveness.
Or maybe I don’t. Maybe it is in facing down the hard truths about ourselves, without fear and in absolute humility that the full height and depth of the Gospel can penetrate to the darkest and most desolate areas in our soul. And maybe His silence isn’t rejection, maybe it is in the dark night of His silence that the deeper truth of my need for Him, and my longing for Him are more fully revealed. He draws forth from me the desire for His mercy because, in the light of His justice and truth, all is revealed. But these are hard to endure, and sometimes I would rather choose blindness to truth.
This woman comes to Jesus in absolute honesty, about who she is and where she stands in light of the Truth as He stands before her. It is her words and actions that indicate that. In the passages before this story, Matthew 15:1-20, Jesus explains that evil in the heart of a person is what defiles a person, and leaves them blind, like the Pharisees who cannot see that disobeying a commandment of God is far worse than not following a tradition that has been handed down by their elders. They are offended by Jesus identifying their neglect of the commandments and in their pride they are blinded and do recognize truth when they are confronted with it. They refuse His justice, so they refuse His mercy.
There is much to admire in the Canaanite woman’s courage to seek Jesus, and her faith to keep on seeking him for the sake of her daughter. I am also drawn to her humility and her lack of presumption. She knows where she stands and in knowing that she avails herself fully to His mercy. And in her perseverance to seek the Lord, she helps all of us to see in His light, and all is revealed. No superficiality or blind arrogance will be tolerated, not if you want to receive the fullness of His healing.
God’s peace and grace be with all of you!
Heidi Knofczynski, Journey to Wisdom